ALEXANDER THE GREAT
As a major season of his films begin, MARK COUSINS explains why he loves the cinema of ALEXANDER DOVZHENKO.
How’s this for a career boost? You are 34 years old and attending the premiere of your second feature film. As the lights go down, a giant of world cinema, Sergei Eisenstein, slips into his seat. He loves your film and invites you on a night of drinking. He later writes in his diary: ‘I sat down beside Pudovkin. In the crush we meet the director. Onto the screen Zvenigora leaps! Mama! What goes on here?!’
What indeed. The year was 1928, the place Moscow. The novice director who so impressed Eisenstein was a Ukrainian son of an illiterate peasant, Alexander Dovzhenko. He would go on to become the greatest Soviet filmmaker of his era, easily outstripping Pudovkin and, it could be argued, Eisenstein himself. Why was Dovzhenko so great? Quite simply because he made unforgettable images. That his 13 siblings all died before adulthood added gravitas to his natural talent. And his distance from Moscow made him less ideologically shrill than the other Soviet helmers. Bookish and hard working, Dovzhenko was driven by a fear both of his own death and of not realising his artistic vision.
In his second film, the astonishing Arsenal, that vision became clear. Lyrical and surreal scenes contrasted the carnage of WW1 with the timelessness of the Ukraine. Women stand motionless in the sunshine in villages entirely without men. A horse speaks as he is being flogged. A dead, half-buried soldier smiles. Three decades before the famous jump-cuts in Jean- Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle, Dovzhenko fragments a factory sequence with them. This was bravura stuff, but his next and most famous film, Earth, was even more original.
Come the sound era, it was no surprise that Dovzhenko recorded in the Ukrainian rather than Russian language. He didn’t work much in the 305 because of Stalin’s suspicions of his interest in folk tradition. After his father starved to death during WW2, he sensed that he was closer to the precipice and the intensity of his work deepened further. He died at the age of 62 after having a heart attack. For a man who battled so often with the authorities, the year - 1956, when Khrushchev ﬁrst acknowledged the iniquities of Stalinism - was sadly ironic.
Dovzhenko once wrote: ‘I often think how my life has been wasted.’ But this new complete retrospective of his work shows that this wasn’t so. All of the aforementioned films will be
A still from Dovzhenko’s Aerograd (1935)
screened, plus his documentaries and the rarely seen Farewell America, which was only completed in 1995, 46 years after the Kremlin forced its abandonment. In a strange sense, in fact, his talent did not go to the grave. In the years after his death his second wife and dedicated executor, Julia Solntseva, continued to make films from his screenplays. Her tending of his achievements helped his work influence Russian cinema in the 19705, 19803 and 19905, as well as Scotland’s great director Bill Douglas. They continue their slow burn today.
I Figures on a Landscape: The Cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko begins at Fi/niliouse. Edinburgh on Fri 74 Nov.
NICK BROOMFIELD Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield talks about his new film Aileen.
‘Aileen Wuornos definitely committed the murders. The question really is did she commit the first murder in self defence or did she murder them all in cold blood. One of the reasons I was so happy to be a witness was not only that I don't believe in the death penalty as some kind of deterrent or anything else, but also I believe she was acting in self defence. especially with
Richard Mallory. who had a long history of sex crimes. and that by then she had sort of lost her mind. Or maybe that murder perpetuated her into the other murders but that she certainly believed that she was acting in self defence. For 1 1 years she said that. I think what really happened is that she could not stand being on Death Row any more. Twelve years of no human contact. Constant searches in the cell. body searches. medicals whenever she left the cell. It was modern. legalised torture which I think contributed enormously to her hearing voices and being basically a paranoid schi20phrenic by the end of the time that I knew her.
“What I hope people get from Aileen is to look beyond the sensational shock horror ‘date with death' approach the American media took and to look into her childhood and background and upbringing and to learn from that. I think the awful thing about her life was that it was one of extreme violence from her childhood on and then her death at the hands of the state was extremely violent too'. (Interview by Paul Dale).
I Aileen is on selected release from Fri 2] Nov. See review. page 27.
POLITICAL THRILLER ONE
(15) 1 1 1 min 0000.
One is just the beginning of a multidimensional narrative fun ride
Don't be confused by the title of this. the first part of Lucas Belvaux' crazy Trilogy has. in its various incarnations, been called Cava/e or On the Run.
After nearly 15 years behind bars. revolutionary terrorist Bruno Ie Boux IBerauxI escapes. He heads straight back to his cell's base in the city of Grenoble. He intends to settle some old scores. regroup his old team and hook up With his ex- Iover (Catherine Frot). But things ain't what they used to be. Most of his allies are dead and those that are still alive have settled into a life of middle class denial. Bruno has to devise a plan but first he needs to shake the Vicious cop Manise (Gilbert Melki) from his tail.
Alone this is a remarkable. Witty tribute to all that has been cool in French cinema over the last 100 years: the detail of Melville. the testosterone-thick atmosphere of Clouxot. and the unreadability of Chabrol. Bruno lives in a world of struggle and corruption where a little bit of goodness goes a long way.
One is a joy of hard bOiled ethics and spring tight tension. yet as enjoyable as this is as a standalone film, it is just the beginning of a llltlltl-(lllllC‘lISlOll€ll narrative fun ride. Within six weeks the truth will be yours. my friend. (Paul Dalel I Selected release from Fri 14 Nov. See feature.
Iii 2.‘ N.» 9.7.73 THE LIST 23