May 2015, arsenal cinema

Marlen Khutsiev Retrospective

MNE DVADTSAT LET, 1965

Few films have shown early 1960's Moscow, its young inhabitants, its streets, squares, houses, and apartments in such lively, immediate fashion and created a such clear-sighted portrait of a whole generation's attitude towards life as Marlen Khutsiev's MNE DVADTSAT LET (I Am Twenty, 1961-64). Born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1925 and trained at the State Film Academy (WGIK) in Moscow, this director, screenwriter, actor, professor, and outstanding protagonist of the 1950s and 60s Soviet New Wave produced the central work of Soviet Thaw-Era cinema with this film, despite the fact it had to be cut and reworked following an intervention by Khrushchev. His early films, such as DVA FYODORA (1958), already marked a new cinema characterized by a Neorealist-indebted spirit of critical optimism that reached its zenith with I AM TWENTY. Following Iyulskiy dozhd (July Rain, 1967), a sort of continuation of I AM TWENTY, and the anti-war film BYL MESYATS MAY (It Was in May, 1970), Khutsiev increasingly began working as a theater director and professor at the WGIK. In 1983, he shot his first color film Poslesloviye, for which he left his standard cinematic terrain of the city and its streets behind and concentrated entirely on interiors and intergenerational dialogue. His most recent feature-length film, the philosophical reflection INFINITAS, was shown at the Berlinale Competition in 1992. Khutsiev is active to this day as a director and lecturer and has not only created an important body of work, but has also left his mark on numerous Russian filmmakers. With the support of and in collaboration with the GoEast Festival in Wiesbaden and film scholar and curator Barbara Wurm, who will be introducing the opening evening, we are very happy to be able to present this great directors' seldom shown films in his actual presence.

MNE DVADTSAT LET (I Am Twenty, USSR 1965, 1.5., with guest Marlen Khutsiev) Khutsiev’s most well-known film, a portrait of the younger generation at the start of the 60s is regarded as a milestone in Russian cinematography, a key work of its era, and "the Massif Central of Thaw-Era Cinema" (Olaf Möller). At the heart of the film are Sergei and his friends Nikolai und Slava, their life and loves, their search for meaning and self-determination, and their attempts to grapple with their parents' generation, which Khutsiev brings to a head in the form of an imaginary meeting between Sergey and his dead father, a young soldier who fell during the Second World War. This breathtaking cinematic approximation of life's realities for young adults in Moscow fell out of favor with Khrushchev; the film only received a cinema release after various changes and cuts. This innovative, candid, dynamic picture of a city, a generation and a time was still able to emerge in no uncertain times despite these censorship measures – a truly magical moment in cinema, both then and today.

BYL MESYATS MAY (It Was in May, USSR 1970, 2.5., with guest Marlen Khutsiev) 25 years after the end of the war, Khutsiev returns to the period immediately following it, shifting the location to Germany in the process. A few days after the unconditional surrender of German troops, a group of Soviet soldiers is billeted at a farmyard which the war somehow never seems to have reached. This apparently peaceful picture is eerily undermined when the Red Army soldiers are confronted with the full extent of Nazi terror in the liberated concentration camps. An unusual, impressive anti-war film within the context of the Soviet engagement with the Second World War, framed by documentary footage of the last days of war in and around Berlin as well as of the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps.

VESNA NA ZARECHNOY ULITSE
(Spring on Zarechnaya Street, Marlen Khutsiev, Felix Mironer, USSR 1956, 3.5.) Having hardly even finished her studies, young teacher Tanja is allocated a job at an evening school for workers in an industrial city. Her first encounter with her students is sobering, given that the degree of rebelliousness with which they treat their young teacher is only matched by the level of indifference they show to the content of their studies. Sasha, the best steel caster in the works by trade, is one of her most uncouth students, until he falls in love with Tanja and she discovers the sensitivity and sincerity behind his coarseness. Massive industrial complexes are the backdrop as these two young people come together in dual fashion, with their personal springtime equally reflecting the mood of social and political awakening in the aftermath of austerity of the Second World War and the end of Stalin's totalitarian rule.
    
DVA FYODORA (The Two Fedors, USSR 1958, 4.5.) On his way back to his hometown shortly after the end of the war, demobilized soldier Fedor (Vasily Shukshin in his first major role) meets his namesake, the orphaned and homeless younger Fedor. This chance meeting develops into a variation on a cautious father-son-relationship, which soon begins to totter once the elder Fedor meets the young Natasha. In his first solo directorial outing, Khutsiev turns his precise gaze on getting to the bottom of the post-war era: comprehensive destruction and deep wounds on all sides are the springboard for the start of the reconstruction process, as new individual structures and connections are tentatively explored. 

IYULSKIY DOZHD (July Rain, USSR 1966, 5.5.) In this continuation of I AM TWENTY, Khutsiev once again sets his sights on Moscow's young adults. After the cautious stirrings of hope shown in I AM TWENTY, skepticism, alienation, disappointment, and melancholy now dominate half a decade later towards the end of the Thaw Era in JULY RAIN. This equally applies to the life of 27-year-old Lena, who can no longer ignore the differences between her and her future husband, finally extracting herself from her fiancée and thus also from her normally surroundings. Khutsiev describes a young woman's crisis in a series of tableaus, vignettes of small events, and wanders through Moscow.

POSLESLOVIYE (USSR 1983, 6.5.) A chance of scene for Khutsiev from outside to inside, even as the film still revolves around the familiar subject of the intergenerational conflict between parents and children. In Poslesloviye, this finds its expression in the contrasting attitudes of a son-in-law and a father-in-law, with the latter actually wanting to visit his daughter in Moscow. As she is on a business trip, the enthusiastic, interested father-in-law, who seems to feel an almost restless sympathy for all those around him, thus gradually grows closer to his confused, even uncomprehending son-in-law. "The result: a masterful chamber drama whose terrors play out between the telephone and the typewriter, claustrophobic, explosive and rich in subversive potential, it equally functions as comment on life under Brezhnev". (Barbara Wurm)

BESKONETSCHNOST (Infinitas, USSR 1991, 7.5.) A quite literal sell-out takes place at the start of Khutsiev's pivotal parting work, after the furnishings in the apartment of 50-year-old protagonist Vladimir Ivanowitch change their owner almost inadvertently. Liberated from his possessions, a trip through time begins for Vladimir, first into his own past and then into that of his forefathers. Accompanied by an alter ego barely half his age, Vladimir comes across former acquaintances and leaves Moscow to head into the country to the most important places in his life. The protagonist’s crisis coincides with the upheaval in his country. INFINITAS goes way beyond mere historical observation to become a thoughtful, suggestive, "transcendental rite of transition into another universe". (B. Wurm) (mg/bw)