DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
HAPPINESS (SCHASTE) (director/writer: Alexander Medvedkin; cinematographer: Gleb Troianski; music: Modest Mussorgsky; cast: Pyotr Zinovyev (Khmyr), Yelena Yegorova (Anna, his wife), Lidiya Nenasheva (Nun); Runtime: 64; MPAA Rating: NR; Icarus; 1934-silent-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)

 
"It's a prime example of socialists trying to act like Charlie Chaplin over slapstick satire."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This forgotten and unknown to the West Soviet silent film of 1934, directed by the pioneer Russian Bolshevik director Alexander Medvedkin, was restored by his friend, the French filmmaker Chris Marker, in 1971. It's a prime example of socialists trying to act like Charlie Chaplin over slapstick satire. Medvedkin was best known as the director of Ciné-Train, a rolling film studio that traveled across the vast Soviet Union making short documentary films about workers.

Happiness is best viewed as an historical curio, an earnest Commie film based on Russian folklore. Medvedkin's comical oddity prompted Sergei Eisenstein to admiringly say: 'Today I saw how a Bolshevik laughs.'

It tells a fairy-tale parable about a hapless mercenary loser, Khmyr (Pyotr Zinovyev), and his loyal wife Anna (Yelena Yegorova). The peasant farmer is dispossessed of his land for failing to pay taxes and sent by the tsar to fight in the war. He returns after the Revolution to a collective farm. Here the couple find happiness.

There seem to be a few missing scenes, thereby making it difficult to clearly follow the story line. But Medvedkin's lampooning of the greedy, the mercenary, the army and the priests comes through loud and clear. In one outrageous scene tithe-collecting nuns are in transparent blouses, in another soldiers appear in identical cartoon-face masks.

The film failed to please the Soviet censor board, thinking it was an anti-Stalinist film, and they removed it from circulation. But the sincere and naïve pure-hearted Bolshevik filmmaker was lucky to have only his films banned, as other artist friends of his, the Jewish writer Isaac Babel and the avant-garde theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold, were sent to the gulag and executed for similarly challenging work that came under the censor's scrutiny. 

REVIEWED ON 4/22/2009       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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