January 2019, arsenal cinema

Following the sun – Mikhail Kalik retrospective

LJUBIT ..., 1968

Between 1961 and 1968, Soviet-Jewish filmmaker Mikhail Kalik (born in 1927) directed three films whose originality, humanity and highly personal filmic language render them the finest examples of the cinema of the Soviet Thaw. Like Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov and Marlen Khutsiev, he was considered one of the great talents of the early 1960s. The son of a famous theater actor, he was one of the first Jewish students to be accepted by the Moscow Film School (VGIK). In 1951, he fell victim to the “anti-cosmopolitan” campaign and was sent to the gulag. Only after Stalin’s death was he able to continue his studies, shooting his first films in Soviet Moldova. One of his closest collaborators was the composer Mikael Tariverdiev who remains known for his innovative and experimental, yet accessible, film scores. In 1971, a new wave of anti-Semitism prompted Kalik to emigrate to Israel, where he became known by the name Moshe (Moses in Hebrew). In the USSR, people were forbidden to write about him and his name was removed from the list of VGIK graduates. Between 1971 and his death in 2017, he made only three more films. However, he did live to see himself and his films rehabilitated in Russia. Our program, which brings together prints from Gosfilmofond and the Jerusalem Cinematheque, presents the works of a great director whose rediscovery is long overdue.

CHELOVEK IDET ZA SOLNTSEM (Sandu follows the sun, USSR/Soviet Moldova 1961, 18.1., Introduction: Anna Malgina & 25.1.) Kalik himself said that this was the first film in which he found his own artistic language (influenced by Lamorisse, Saint-Exupéry, Matisse and others). A playmate tells the six-year-old Sandu that it’s possible to go around the world by following the sun and come back to the starting point. Sandu attempts to do this and a visual, playful, sometimes experimental, journey through the Soviet empire, childhood dreams and hopes, colors and symbols begins. Intoxicating musically, constantly in motion, headfirst and mirrored and combining big and small, the film culminates in a breathtaking dream sequence, which appears to transport the boy into a new age. “This film was once the manifesto of the shestdesyatniki (children of the 1960s). It reflected their belief that man is fundamentally good regardless of the evil that exists in the world and even sometimes prevails.” (Naum Kleiman) The film received international acclaim but not from the Soviet censors. The critics argued that the film implied that if a man follows the sun, it means he is going to the West.

DO SVIDANIYA, MALCHIKI! (Goodbye, Boys, USSR 1964, 19.1., Lecture: Anna Malgina & 25.1., Introduction: Adelheid Heftberger) In his next film, Malik changed his artistic register radically, going from ecstatic gesture in CHELOVEK IDET ZA SOLNTSEM to an introspective quiet review of the late 1930s, which he engagingly reconstructed aesthetically and musically. The film is set in a small town on the sea. Three youths spend their days in the courtyards, on the promenade and on the beach. Volodiya is in love with Inna. Soon all three will be off to do their military service. The newsreels in the cinema already depict the rearmament in National Socialist Germany. Kalik lends structure to the film through the memories (imparted in inter-titles) of an adult, whose existential melancholy is unique in Soviet cinema. “Ahead of me lay, I thought, lay nothing but joy.”   

LYUBIT … (To love…, USSR/Soviet Moldova 1968, 19. & 26.1., Introduction: Ekaterina Mostovaia) was Kalik’s last film before he emigrated to Israel and the last hurrah of the cinema of the Thaw before the Brezhnev’s restoration began in cinema too. The film was a daring passionate, daydreamy and musically captivating ode to love in its manifestation both of paradise and of pain. In four moving episodes based on short stories (by at times famous writers such as the Moldovan writer Ion Druță) the film is about couples coming together or apart, filmed by famous actors such as Andrei Mironov, Alisa Freindlich or Marianna Vertinskaya, whose modern interpretations recall Antonioni and Bergman.  Between the stages passages Kalik cuts in documentary footage of Soviet citizens (shot by Inna Tumanyan), who speak openly without disguise about what love means for them. This is framed by quotes that are faded in from the Song of Songs. This exceptional work was censored and only reconstructed by Kalik himself at the beginning of the 1990s. We are showing the version that screened on opening night and will screen the censored scenes afterwards.

I VOSVRASHAYETSYA VETER ... (And The Wind Returns, USSR/USA 1991, 20. & 30.1.) Kalik’s last feature film almost invented a new form: He masterfully staged his own autobiography as a collage of staged scenes, archive material and citations from his own films. Described as his “memoirs” the film begins with the return of the “film character” Kalik filmed from the subjective perspective of the camera after 18 years in Israel. Back with his friends he looks back on his life, his colorful and interesting parents, the first films, the beginning of the Second World War, the evacuation to Kazakhstan and the shooting of Eisenstein’s Ivan Grozny. The  central part of the film shows his years in the gulag in Siberia, a memory that never leaves him or the film again. Without bitterness but remembering relentlessly he creates a cultural and social chronicle of the middle decades of the Soviet Union and his own role in this history. Before the film, we will show NEOTPRAVLENNOE PISMO V MOSKVU (Unsent Letter to Moscow, Israel 1977), a cinematic letter to a Jewish friend who died before he was able to follow Kalik to Israel.

ATAMAN KODR (Mikhail Kalik, Boris Rytsarev, Olga Ulitskaya, USSR/Soviet Moldova 1958, 22. & 28.1.) As a student of VGIK still, in the class of Sergei Yutkevitch, Kalik filmed his first feature-length film in the Moldova Film Studio. His co-directors were his co-student Boris Rytsarev (who later became a known director of fairy tale adaptations) and Olga Ulitskaya who worked in different artistic functions for Moldova Film all her life, he staged ATAMAN KODR, which is set in 1840s Moldova and tells the story of a farmhand who rebels against his master. He triggers an uprising that becomes a freedom movement.  The tale is conventionally told but the filmmakers use elements of Moldovan folklore, picturesque landscapes and even at times gothic horror to create a fast-paced historical film.

YUNOST NASHIKH OTSOV (The Youth of our Fathers, Mikhail Kalik, Boris Rytsarev, USSR 1958, 23.1. & 28.1.) Kalik and Rytsarev’s graduation film from the VGIK was an adaptation of a novel by the Soviet writer Alexander Fadeyev, who became very famous in  the Stalin era. The biographical book, like the film, depicts partisans and Red Army troops fighting Japanese troops in Russia’s far east during the Civil War in 1919. On the one hand, it’s a classic partisan film but it is also different because there are hardly any battle scenes. Instead the revolutionary troops are shown resting, talking, carrying out everyday tasks and not heroic deeds. Kalik identifies with the character of one of the older fighters. In acoustic flashbacks, he looks back on time spent with his son. In his later film And the Wind Returns, he developed these into dialogues between him and his father.

KOLYBELNAYA (Lullaby, USSR/Soviet Moldova 1960, 24.1., Introduction: Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu & 26.1.) Kalik went back to Moldova for his directorial debut. At first glance, his film might not seem not located in a time or place, but is an intense exploration of Moldovan agriculture and culture featuring the eponymous lullaby leitmotiv sung in Romanian. The moving film tells the story of the pilot Losev, who lost his wife and (as far as he knows) their newborn daughter when their hometown was bombed by the Fascists at the beginning of the Second World War. He discovers by chance that his daughter is alive and goes by the name of Aurica and sets off to find her. Her childhood is recalled in flashbacks. When Georges Sadoul saw KOLYBELNAYA at the Venice Film Festival, he wrote that Kalik had “talent and temperament” and was a name to remember.

SHLOSHA V’ACHAT (Three and One, Israel 1974, 24. & 29.1.) Kalik and his family arrived in Israel at the end of 1971. Hailed as a famous director, he received many offers of work. After a long period of reflection, he opted for Russian material, adapting Maxim Gorky’s short story “Malva” and turning it into an allegory of the state of Israel set shortly before the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The main figure - in Gorky’s story and Malik’s film - is a man who left his wife and child years earlier, beginning a new life with a younger mistress on the coast. When his son find him, a new dynamic emerges. Featuring dazzling costumes and colors that captured the zeitgeist, the film was a flop with both the public and the critics, putting an end to Kalik’s short-lived career, as he refused to make any artistic compromises. A fascinating testimony of an attempt to make film in exile that was as doomed as Aleksander Ford’s after he emigrated to Israel from Poland in 1968. (gv)  

The program will be accompanied by a discussion between Anna Malgina, Erika Gregor, Ulrich Gregor, Barbara Wurm and Christoph Huber about Mikhail Kalik, an outstanding representative of the Soviet Thaw but also of cinema in exile.
In cooperation with the Austrian Film Museum, thanks to Jurij Meden and Christoph Huber. Kindly supported by the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, thanks to Angela Paul.

arsenal cinema: 49th Forum


49. Forum / 69. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin

49. Forum / 69. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin

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