Cinema Lumiere - Sala Scorsese > 18:00


Vsevolod Pudovkin


Film Notes

The Return of Vasilij Bortnikov was commonly regarded by Soviet film experts as a work of transitional significance, the first cinematic work of the post-Stalin Thaw: a symbol of inevitable cultural revival and, simultaneously, a proof of the continuity of the ‘Socialist Realist’ methodology. In spite of the fact that it was released only two and a half weeks after Stalin’s death and, therefore, had been produced within the confines of the orthodox Stalinist culture, the film was imbued with that lyrical tonality which was to define much of the cinema of the early post-Stalin era as a metaphor for new social hope and a sign of Soviet cinema’s ideological ‘shift toward the individual’.
Bortnikov became the last work of Vsevolod Pudovkin, a Soviet and Russian classic whose contribution to Soviet cinema has been linked to the exploration of individual paths to social awareness and associated with the masterful transmission of emotions. In spite of the obligatory presence of conversations about agricultural efficiency and the importance of toeing the Party line, many of the film’s scenes and images are characterized by lyrical understatement which contrasts with the sketchiness and frequently awkward straightforwardness of most of the films of the late Stalin period.
The stylistic strategy of understated emotionalism is correlated in Bortnikov with the systematic visualization of seasonal changes in the Russian countryside. At first glance, the film’s imagery may resemble glossy magazine illustrations and, therefore, be dismissed as an element of the Stalinist aesthetics of polished but soulless ‘realism’. However, Pudovkin’s record of lyrical imagery, which dates back to the evocative and symbolic sketches of nature in his 1926 masterpiece Mother, and the exquisite work by Sergej Urusevskij, arguably the most important cinematographer of the Thaw era, turn the film’s depictions of springtime into metaphors of personal and collective rebirth, expanding Mother’s iconic images of the regenerative power of spring. Similarly, Bortnikov’s story of a war veteran’s tortuous adaptation to the complexities of peaceful life may be referred to another Pudovkin film, the 1930 offbeat melodrama A Simple Case. Under the conditions of formulaic aesthetics and oppressive artistic compromises, Pudovkin decided to revive – albeit cautiously – some of the concerns that occupied him at a more exciting time, and in the process turned his last work into a presentiment of social change.

Sergei Kapterev

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Galina Nikolaeva, Evgenij Gabrilovič. F.: Sergej Urusevskij. Scgf.: Boris Čebotarëv, Abram Frejdin. Mus.: Kirill Molčanov. Int.: Sergej Luk’janov (Vasilij Bortnikov), Natal’ja Medvedeva (Avdot’ja Bortnikova), Nikolaj Timofeev (Stepan Mochov), Anatolij Čemodurov (Boris Čekanov), Inna Makarova (Fros’ka Blinova), Anatolij Ignat’ev (Pavel), Vsevolod Sanaev (Kantaurov), Klara Lučko (Natal’ja Dubko). Prod.: Mosfil’m · 35mm. Col.