Ukraine and films in the Klassiki database : the August 2022 Slavonic items of the month

Last year, Cambridge University Libraries started providing access to the Klassiki database of films from Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.  The subscription was started specifically to support courses taught under the auspices of Film Studies and/or Slavonic Studies.  In its own words: “Klassiki hosts a highly curated permanent collection of films that represent the best of classic filmmaking from the region. We also offer a brand new ‘Pick of the Week’ contemporary title, selected by the curatorial team. Each of our films are accompanied by programme notes, journal essays, newly commissioned subtitles and online interviews with the best filmmakers from the region.”

In terms of Ukraine, the Klassiki database currently has 6 films in its Ukraine section.  It did have a 7th – the documentary film Mariupolis (2016) directed by Mantas Kvedaravičius.  As readers will probably already know, that film was about the experience of Mariupolʹ under fire from Russian-backed separatists, and its director was tragically murdered there this year in March, a victim of the 2022 full-scale war.  He had been in the city to make a sequel.  The 2016 film is no longer on Klassiki, since ARTE.tv have been able to license it to make it fully and freely available on YouTube here.  Kvedaravičius’ 2013 Cambridge PhD thesis, Knots of absence : death, dreams, and disappearances at the limits of law in the counter-terrorism zone of Chechnya, is at the Haddon Library and in the Library Storage Facility, and here is his home department’s tribute to him.

The Ukrainian films on Klassiki were made in Ukraine and chiefly by Ukrainian directors, with one in Ukrainian (and Hutsul), two silent, and three in Russian.  They include two films by Kira Muratova, two by Oleksandr Dovz︠h︡enko, one by Serhiĭ Paradz︠h︡anov (Sergei Parajanov here), and one by Marlen Khut︠s︡iev (who Cambridge was fortunate enough to host in a 2014 visit).  The films’ descriptions from Klassiki follow.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Тіні забутих предків) 1965, Ukrainian

“The first mature masterpiece from one of world cinema’s true poets, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors bursts with imagination. Grounded in the folk traditions, aesthetics, and dialect of the Hutsul people of western Ukraine, [Sergei] Parajanov’s tale of the forbidden love between star-crossed Ivan and Marichka showcases his trademark visual exuberance. This magical realist triumph established Parajanov as one of the Soviet Union’s pre-eminent auteurs.”

Brief Encounters (Короткие встречи) 1967, Russian
“The debut feature from one of Russian-language cinema’s most fearless auteurs [Kira Muratova], Brief Encounters is a quietly devastating gem. Banned for twenty years and only rediscovered in the late ‘80s, this beautifully staged domestic drama uses flashbacks to tell the story of a love triangle, female rivalry, and dashed dreams. Starring Muratova herself opposite legendary singer Vladimir Vysotsky and debutante Nina Ruslanova, Brief Encounters marks the first step in the career of one of the most singular female directors of all time.”

The Long Farewell (Долгие проводы) 1971, Russian
“Ukrainian auteur Kira Muratova’s sophomore directorial effort, The Long Farewell was shelved by censors until 1987, then heralded as a lost masterpiece. This simple tale of maternal jealousy and filial rebellion is transformed by Muratova into a thrillingly odd drama full of visual sophistication, off-kilter music, and exquisite camerawork. Zinaida Sharko is heartbreaking as the mother on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and Oleg Karavaichuk’s piano score is a minor masterpiece of its own.”

The Ukrainian poster for Love’s Berries, from Klassiki

Love’s Berries (Ягідки Кохання/Ягoдка Любви) 1926, silent
“A barber is shocked when his girlfriend leaves their baby in his arms. Taking care of this child was not at all in his plans – so the reluctant father tries to get rid of it. This burlesque comedy with minimal plot, an early Soviet comedy gem, was written by Oleksandr Dovzhenko in only 3 days and produced at the very first Ukrainian film studio in Odessa. With an original score composed and performed by Juliet Merchant.”

Earth (Земля) 1930, silent
“Widely regarded as [Oleksandr] Dovzhenko’s masterpiece and one of the finest silent films ever made, Earth is fiercely poetic and politically radical. Narrating the collectivisation of agriculture in the Ukrainian countryside, Dovzhenko employs avant-garde and folkloric motifs in his search for a unique cinematic language. The source of great controversy – from the initial reaction of angered Soviet censors to contemporary debates about its position on Stalinism – the film retains its ability to both shock and awe. Presented with a new score from Stephen Horne that draws out the rare power of Dovzhenko’s images.”

Spring on Zarechnaya Street (Весна на Заречной улице) 1956, Russian
“The feature debut of beloved auteur Marlen Khutsiev, Spring on Zarechnaya Street signalled a sea change in Soviet cinema on its release in 1956. Charting the romance between a prim teacher and a happy-go-lucky factory worker in provincial Ukraine, Khutsiev and co-director Feliks Mironer capture the sincerity and optimism of the post-Stalinist ‘50s. Shot through with Khutsiev’s trademark lyricism and warm humanism, the film was a huge hit and remains a landmark of its era.”

University of Cambridge staff and students eager to watch any of these films and make the most of the subtitles and other material provided can set up an account via this link.  Access to Klassiki has not been widely advertised, because we have a capped number of accounts, but it is right to push this resource at this point.  Please contact ejournals@lib.cam.ac.uk if you have any problems setting an account up.

Mel Bach

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