When I started watching A Driver for Vera, I had really low expectations and I didn’t really think I was going to like it.  Fortunately, the opposite was true and I thought it was fairly enjoyable to watch.

I will say, though, that a lot of the motives behind the characters actions seem to not quite make sense.  Everyone is very overly dramatic and most peeople do really odd things.  For example, why would Vera’s father send her to the beach instead of getting an abortion if she really wanted it?  I mean, I do understand the logic, but the beach just seems like such a random location (I guess there was the discussion of the most beautiful seas, though, so I suppose it does make sense).

Also, why would you tell a pregnant woman tragic news like that if you don’t know details?  Doesn’t it make more sense to wait until you know for sure what happened than to worry her immediately unnecessarily?  Stupid, stupid people for doing that.

I think it’s interesting how the Soviet/Russian musical tradition continues in this film.  There’s a scene where Viktor and Vera’s father have a moment of song, very reminiscent of Chapaev.  The soundtrack of the film is full of songs from the 1950s and 1960s, and they fit perfectly, unlike a similar soundtrack used in Repentance.

Prisoner

The Prisoner struck me for many reasons. Primarily, though I was struck by the setting of the film. Unlike most of the other films we’ve watched in class all year that portrayed an idyllic country setting that was often indistinguishable, The Prisoner had a distinct setting and would not have worked anywhere else. It is interesting to note that many other films we’ve watched have had specific urban locations, although the country locations are often not indistinguishable from one another (at least through the eyes of the Western viewer).

What struck me the most, however, was the comparison I was able to make to American prisoner of war films, where the location is almost always secondary. Most stories would easily be understandable in any location, whether it be parts of Europe or the Middle East. The Prisoner stands out because it relies so heavily on scenery.

As we’re watching this film (and we currently still are), I’m noticing that the music used in this film is very, very strange. It uses very famous classical pieces in some sequences, while in others it uses very modern synthesizer based music.

Ultimately, I’m not quite sure what to make of this film.  The music just separated me from whatever was happening on screen, in part because it used widely known classical pieces that really did not fit with the action occurring on the screen.  In other moments, the film used music that was straight out of the eighties.  Granted, this was modern for the time, but now it just seemed dated.  I believe a conversation like this occurred while we were watching the film:

Gee: “What’s going on right now?”

Kristen: “It’s a lot of eighties.”

or something like that.  Either way, I feel as though the film was trying to connect with an audience on a popular culture level, and it just pushed the audience even further away.

I promise this is the last time I talk about sound on this blog.  Maybe?  Hopefully.

I enjoyed watching Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears because the idea of stretching a story out over that much time is difficult to do well, but it also infuriated me.  In fact, it really, really enraged me.  The sexism the film presented was almost unbearable at times, although I am not aware of the position of women in the country at that time, or currently for that matter.  The rape scene and its repercussions also infuriated me.  Not only was Katya essentially blamed for her pregnancy, but Rudolph (or Rodion) was not blamed, held responsible or even seen as having done anything morally wrong.  It irritated me that Katya was being pressured to marry Rudolph as though she was partially responsible for what happened.  She said “don’t”, therefore, she is not responsible for what happened.  Rape is rape, and I’m offended by the amount of victim blaming that this film presents.  I think it is important to examine the cultural ideas behind what is presented in the film and to examine whether or not this was a common response to this situation.

Prior to The Cranes are Flying, individual performances of actors in the films we watched for class never really stood out.  In films like Battleship Potemkin and Earth, there were individual characters, but there was never really a connection created between the characters and the audience.  They were always part of a bigger ensemble, with little focus placed on the development of the individual.  With films like Ivan the Terrible, sure, there were individual performances, but the entire time I felt like I was focusing on the production value of the film rather than on the film itself.  I’m not sure whether or not that was the intent, but I often found myself distracted by the costumes, sets, make-up, et al. and not focused on the action actually occurring on screen.

Films of the Thaw period are different, though.  Focus is taken off of the idea of the collective and placed, for the first time, on the individual.  In Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Ivan’s Childhood, in particular, individual performances far outweigh those of the ensemble as a whole.  First of all, there is really no “ensemble” or “collective”.  The film features a cast of well developed characters, all of whom the viewer is able to identify by name and several personality traits.  Although the film has several subplots, it primarily focuses on a young boy named Ivan, played by Kolya Burlyayev.  Whenever Ivan appears on screen, his presence dilutes that of those around him.  He steals the scenes away from even the most important of the secondary characters because he is so dynamic and often just really loud.  It’s rare to see a young boy with so much emotion, especially in a film with subject material as dark as this one.

Pitch

The Commissar is an interesting film for a few reasons.  First of all, it’s a historical drama released in 1967, an important year in the film world for many reasons.  By that time, the French New Wave had essentially finished, and the Thaw period of Russian cinema had died down, as well.  The influences both movements had on the film are apparently throughout, however, especially when talking about cinematography.  Another interesting thing to note is that since this is a historical piece, the events occurred almost 50 years prior to the release of the film.  This would allow us to somehow gauge the historical accuracies/inaccuracies of the film, especially because many films had already been released about the period (The Civil War) immediately after it initially happened.  It provides hindsight into the political and social views of the period.

It provides many different views of women in this period, as well.  The story is about a commissar who has to leave the military because she unexpectedly finds out that she is pregnant.  It deals with many issues about the duty of a woman in the home and outside of it, as well.  She reluctantly leaves the military to go have the child, even after admitting that she does not want to have it at all.  A Jewish family takes her in and they assist her as she gives birth and cares for her newborn.  It’s also interesting to note that the family is Jewish, as Jewish culture had not been seen on the screen often.   The cultural aspects of the film would provide us with a lot of research and talk about, should we choose this film.

The film is beautifully shot and is slow-moving at times.  There are several flashback/dream scenes, so it is not completely linear like many other films.  It is not my favorite film of all time, but it is certainly one that would provide a lot to talk about if we were to do a presentation on it.

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When I was in high school, one of my film teachers told me that he judges the artistic merit of a film based on still images.  He used to tell us that you know a film is well made if you would be willing to hang any single screenshot on your wall as a piece of art.  I think that applies to The Cranes are Flying.  While many of the previous films we’ve watched have had very intricate mise-en-scene, The Cranes are Flying stands out because it’s just…well, for lack of a better word, it’s really pretty.  Everything is well framed, the motion of the camera is very fluid and while the subject matter is very dark, it’s just very aesthetically pleasing.

One scene that stands out in particular, to me at least, is the scene in which Veronica can be seen running up the stairs of her burning house.  The camera follows her closely and pans along with her path.  The motion is fluid and unlike anything we had really seen before.  A lot of close-ups are used to emphasize human emotion in this film, as well.  The scene in which Veronica rescues little Boris is also interesting because there is a slight manipulation of time.

I can’t exactly place why I enjoyed this film so much.  Perhaps it’s because the Criterion restoration of it is absolutely beautiful or perhaps it’s just because it’s a beautiful film.  Either way, despite the depressing (yet strangely uplifting at the end?  I’m not quite sure how I feel about it) subject matter, it truly is a beautiful film to watch.

I will probably edit this at some point in the near future when I can coherently piece together my opinion on the ending of the film and more about the cinematography.

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I have no idea where or when my obsession with sound began.  For years, I barely paid any attention to sound and the way music is used in films, but recently (probably due to the fact that since I’ve started making more movies I’ve realized exactly how difficult sound is to get correct and therefore appreciate it more) I’ve found it hard to NOT focus on sound.

In Ivan The Terrible, Part One, for example, I think the use of a choral score throughout many moments is both strange and exciting.  It’s strange because while many filmmakers around the world, particularly in the United States, were adding instrumental scores to their film, very few of them used scores that would have had vocal selections unless the film was musical or someone who was in the film was performing the song (diagetic sound).  It’s interesting because in this film, we never see people singing what is being heard (non-diagetic).  In recent years, this has become standard practice for filmmakers but it just seemed so out of place at the time.

I’m probably focusing on this because I don’t speak Russian and just really, really want to know what the songs mean, so I can ultimately potentially read the film with an additional layer.

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As someone who really isn’t terribly familiar with the details of Russian culture, it was interesting to see how deeply rooted the idea of traveling to outer space is in their ways of looking at life.  For some reason, I associate space travel with the late ’50s and early ’60s (perhaps that’s when Americans began paying attention to Soviet space exploration), so realizing that it’s not something that existed only during the Cold War is interesting.

From what I gathered from the study sheet and the film itself, space travel really was a huge part of life in the 1930s.  Records were already being broken and accidents made heroes out of astronauts.

The final act performed in the circus consists of a cannon shooting people into the air, giant parachutes and balloons.  The act pays tribute to the up and coming space program and is oddly prophetic of what would come during the Cold War.

What’s also interesting to me is that space travel is such an important element of this film, even though the film is a drama and not a science-fiction film.  The vastness and unknownness of space adds to the spectacle, simply because at this point in time, there really wasn’t a lot of information about how the crafts that would eventually take us up to space worked (at least not that was readily available to the public) and the filmmakers have the ability to take many creative liberties with the process, costumes and machines involved.

It also struck me that, once again, the machine is an ever-present being in a film.  The cannon is just as important in the act as the people are, much like the tractor in Earth.

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As sound developed to aid in the narrative form of movies, music grew to be increasingly more important.  Listening to movies has become almost as important as seeing movies.  Chapaev is interesting because it does not rely on a score to aid it through most of the film.

Music in Chapaev is used rather sparingly.  For example, one moment in the film depicts the two men singing together as they lay on the floor.  Most of the memorable examples of music in this film occur when characters burst into dreary melodies, rather than as background music.  The singing is slightly off-key and is certainly not perfect, but it aids in the telling of the film because it occurs naturally and is not forced.  A few moments later, a bugle horn is heard as a horse and small military troop are shown.  Since music is actually used in this scene, it draws the attention of the viewer to what is happening.  A similar song plays as the men separate and run in different directions.  The music used here is not overwhelming.  It is simple, brief and does not drown out the dialogue or background sounds.   As the army approaches, drums can be heard in the distance and gradually increase in volume as the soldiers move closer and closer.  It is a steady rhythm and is diagetic, as it is contained in the film, for the most part.  In addition to the drums beating, the viewer can hear the footsteps of the approaching men in time with the drum beat, making them even more threatening.  As a battle breaks out, the drums stop and the noise of the machine gun is one of the only things to be heard.

Background sounds are very prominent in this film.  Whenever action takes place outside, for example, the viewer is able to hear the birds chirping, horses galloping, guns firing or in some cases, even the wind blowing.  Going back to the scene with the machine gun during battle, when the gun stops working, the only thing that can be heard is the noise of gun and cannon fire in the background.

Music is most potently used as Chapaev and his men charge into battle on horseback near the end of the film.  On this rare occasion, music is used non-diagetically, to aid the dramatic action.  When Chapaev and his men meet, a hymnal-esque song is being hummed in the background to establish a sense of unity.  A similar song is used when Chapaev tells the men to put up more posts as the men wait together.  It seems as though music is often used as a way for characters to share special moments or for characters to pass their time.  Instead of waiting around, they sing songs.  Not only does this make the film for interesting for the viewer, but it allows a glimpse into the culture of the time.

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