Cinema Jolly > 15:30


Margarita Barskaja

The print is incomplete. The missing scenes will be explained during the projection.

Born in Baku in 1903, Margarita Barskaya grew up with two sisters and her divorced mother, a would-be artist who made ladies’ hats. She took theatre classes in Azerbaijan and joined a troupe in Odessa. On a visit to the city’s studios, she met the veteran of Tsarist cinema, Pyotr Chardynin, 30 years her senior. She went on to become his wife, leading lady and assistant-director. She appeared in Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s first film, Yagodka lyubvi (Love’s Berries, 1926), but had little interest in acting. She left Chardynin and moved to Moscow, where, in 1929, she opened a dramatic arts studio for children and published numerous articles where she laid out her idea of cinema “by children, for children and about children”. In 1930, she filmed an educational documentary about bread-making: a narrow-minded peasant realises that he needs agricultural tools and tractors, in short that he needs the working class to be able to increase production. Kto vazhneye – Chto nuzhneye (Who’s More Important, What’s More Necessary), long believed to be lost, was identified in the archives of documentary film and photography (RGAKFD) by Natalia Miloserdova in 2008. Poetic and humorous, despite its mandatory didacticism, the film mixes animation and live action. Following praise for this success, Barskaya was able to make her first feature film, Rvanye bashmaki (1933). It depicts the rise of Nazism in an industrial German town, shown from the perspective of children. Convinced that her young actors wouldn’t be able to post-synchronise their dialogue s, she filmed them with direct sound, allowing them to react without having learned a script by heart. She also built a tripod to set up the camera at their height. The film was a triumph, both in the USSR and abroad. Gorky declared he was staggered to see “a young boy expressing a range of emotions that are only seen in the greatest actors”. Famous by the age of 30, Barskaya eventually persuaded Boris Shumyatsky to entrust her with a production unit dedicated to children’s films. But what she had envisioned as an experimental venture, in the summer of 1936 became a major studio, Soyuzdetfilm, jealously controlled by the Party’s youth organizations. In September the arrest of Karl Radek, whom she had been close to, made her situation worse. While the screenplay of her second feature film, Otets i syn (1936), had been accepted, the film was attacked, re-edited and finally banned. Barskaya refused to fall in line and protested; she refused to testify against Radek. A violent campaign was unleashed against her. She began a new project with the pedagogue Anton Makarenko, but his death brought this to an end. On 23 July 1939 she killed herself by jumping from the fifth floor of a building.

Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz


Friday 28/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

While a factory director is distracted by production problems, his adolescent son suffers from loneliness. His mother is dead, and the father – a kind man and exemplary communist, winner of a Lenin Prize – is unable to find the time to educate his son, or a way to express his feelings. After an argument, the young boy runs away and, at his own risk, joins a band of criminals. The revolution isn’t just about production quotas, Barskaya seems to be telling us in this fine portrait of men, young and old. While female filmmakers were often assigned as directors of children’s films, the genre’s most brilliant representative chooses to tell the story of a single father. The Meyerhold actor Lev Sverdlin, who made his cinema debut with Boris Barnet’s U samogo sinego morya (By the Bluest of Seas), displays, as ever, a luminous intelligence, but the film’s sensation is the 12-year-old non-professional actor Genya Volovich, a cross between Jean-Pierre Léaud from The 400 Blows and Buster Keaton, who casts a disgruntled look at Stalinist Moscow. As Evgeny Margolit pointed out, if the screenplay does follow the predictable line of didacticism, the film and its protagonist dive into the night and a pervasive atmosphere of anxiety. Barskaya had fallen into disgrace after the arrest of Karl Radek, who had been an advisor for her previous film, Rvanye bashmaki, and suddenly found herself labelled a “close friend of an enemy of the people”. The film was branded as “perverted” and “harmful” by her own colleagues at Soyuzdetfilm. After giving the film a positive reception at initial screenings, they criticised one another for not having been alert enough. In discussions, they reproached Barskaya for having depicted Moscow as “dirty, disagreeable and ugly”, a cesspit. The scene of a worker sleeping in a Party meeting also caused outrage. On 17 June 1937, Barskaya was fired from the studio whose creation she had wished for so fervently. The film underwent much reworking and cutting. The only preserved positive print is incomplete (with two parts of the soundtrack lost, and the second to last reel missing), but “little does it matter, the film is nonetheless splendid” (Peter Bagrov).

Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Margarita Barskaja, V. Jadin. Scen.: Margarita Barskaja. F.: Louis Forestier. Scgf.: P. Bejtner, K. Geningson, S. Kuznecov. Mus.: G. Gamburg. Int.: Lev Sverdlin (Pëtr Nikolaevič Volkov), Vasilij Novikov (segretario del comitato del Partito), Mihail Tarchanov, Ol’ga Žizneva, Ženja Volovič, Teodor Vulfovič, bambini da sei mesi a tredici anni. Prod.: Sojuzdetfil’m. 35mm. Bn.