Schastye

Happiness
Alexandr Medvedkin
USSR 1935

25.02.2020 11:00 Eng. subtitles Akademie der Künste
01.03.2020 14:30 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1

35 mm, 77 min. Russian intertitles.

In one of the last silent films to be produced in the Soviet Union, Alexandr Medvedkin tells the story of a peasant’s quest for happiness: this odyssey of a small man begins when his father dies while trying to steal his wealthy neighbour’s dumplings. After a promising beginning, he must stand his ground against greedy clergymen, corrupt helpers of the tsar and even his own lazy horse. Medvedkin dedicated this film to "the last lazybones of the collective farm", sketching out this man’s journey to the collective as a series of exaggerated, slapstick missteps which can only lead to one realisation: the old system must be abolished and a new one must be created. The film did not attract much attention in the West until the 1960s, thanks in part to Chris Marker, who used excerpts from it in his film Le tombeau d'Alexandre (1993). (ab)

Alexandr Medvedkin was born in 1900 in Penza, Russian Empire (current Russia). He attended an engineering school before fighting for the Red Army as a volunteer in 1919. A year later, he became a member of the Communist Party. In 1927, Medwedkin turned to film, starting out by directing military educational films at the State Military Film Studio Gosvoenkino. In the 1930s, he began making experimental satirical short films. In 1931, Medvedkin started working on the project ‘Cinetrain', in which he equipped a train with a cutting room, a laboratory to develop film and screening facilities. Until 1935, Medvedkin's team travelled the country with this mobile cinema, in order to critically document the working conditions in big industry and to present the filmic results to the workers on site and to stimulate discussion. Medvedkin's film work was rediscovered in the late 1960s. In 1973, Chris Marker focused on Medvedkin's ‘Cinetrain’ in his documentary LE TRAIN EN MARCHE. Alexandr Medvedkin died in Moscow in 1989.

SCHASTYE  – a social satire

(…) The style of this new silent film is the style of a folk tale, a social satire, as it so often occurs in our folklore. Our cinematography has not yet undertaken such an experiment. With a few rare exceptions, it has never made use of stylisation. Only very recently, thanks to the methods of the animated cartoon, have we seen anything similar on the screen. ZAR DURANDAI, for example. That’s why it’s easy to understand that the young director Medvedkin faced great difficulties on his path. But not only has he managed to make a great artistic film, he has also tried to speak a new language and test new possibilities of artistic expression.
The return to folklore has simultaneously made the problem easier and more difficult. Easier, because folklore has a centuries-old stock of masklike, stylised motifs; more difficult, because this massive material had to be subjected to the strict requirements of film. The director emerged from this test with full honours. (…)
The kolkhoz is not yet a theme in any folklore, and it is easy to understand that it had to be difficult for the director to maintain a consistent style in his film. Nonetheless, the images and situations from our time possess the same generalising character and the same pictorial expressive power, right up to the end and in every detail. (…)
An interesting, original and promising directing artist has debuted in our film art. The film SCHASTYE has great social scope; it organically connects artistic means and the theme in a convincing stylistic unity. At the same time, the director was able to preserve in his film the lightness of an ironic and pleasurable comedy that strikes a blow against our enemy with unerring accuracy.

(Soviet critique from 22 March 1935, in: Le film muet sovietique, Brussels 1965, p. 70.)

On Alexander Medvedkin

The only realistic component in SCHASTYE are the ideas. Visually and in other ways (SCHASTYE is a silent film), the film was a fantasy that stopped at nothing to convey these ideas. Medvedkin made use of exaggeration, farce, vaudeville, burlesque, and Surrealism (making Alexandrov’s attempts in this mode seem downright childish), and even of Expressionism and dirty jokes. SCHASTYE is one of the most original films in Soviet film history, which is all the more remarkable because it was released in the most orthodox period. Its story – “fable” would be more accurate – is told in a contemporary announcement: “There once was a poor man, Chmyr. He waited many years for a good life. And when it all became too much for him, he sent his strict wife Anna out to seek happiness.” (…)
Medvedkin’s education on the Cinetrain must really have been very thorough. A slightly theatrical touch in the decorations and costumes is counterbalanced by the effect of witty improvisation – the gleeful masks of the military recruiters and the transparent dresses of the pretty nuns who take Chmyr’s last coins for their collection seem like spontaneous improvisations in a literary cabaret.

(Jay Leyda: Kino. A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, London 1960, p. 286 f., 325 ff., back-translation, Infoblatt No. 3, 1. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, Berlin 1971, Download PDF)

Production company Moskinokombinat (Moskau, USSR). Written and directed by Alexandr Medvedkin. Cinematography Gleb Troyansky. Production design Alexander Utkin. With Pyotr Zinoviev (Khmyr), Yelena Yegorova (Anna, seine Frau), Lydia Nenasheva (Nonne), V. Uspenski, G. Mirgoryan.

Films

1930: Derzhi vora / Stop Thief / Haltet den Dieb. 1931: Pro belogo bychka / About a White Bull-Calf / Über das weiße Stierlein. 1932: Pro Liubov / About Love / Von der Liebe, Dyra / The Hole / Das Loch. 1936: Chudesnitsa / The Miracle Worker / Die Wunderbare (78 min.). 1938: Novaya Moskva / New Moscow / Das neue Moskau (100 min.). 1939: Tsvetushchaia iunost / Blossoming Youth. 1941: My zhdem vas s pobedoy / We Await Your Victorious Return / Wir erwarten euch mit dem Sieg (co-directed by Ilya Trauberg). 1954: Pervaia vesna / First Spring / Der erste Frühling (co-directed by Iosif M. Poselsky). 1960: Rasum protiw besumija / Reason gainst Madness / Vernunft gegen Unvernunft. 1965: Mir V’etnamu / Peace to Vietnam / Frieden für Vietnam. 1971: Noch nad Kitaem / Night over China / Nacht über China. 1979: Bezumie / Madness. 1984: Trevoga / The Alarm.