Saturday, 21 December 2013
Abram Room: A Severe Young Man - Строгий юноша (1936)
Director: Abram Room
Cast: Iurii Iur'ev, Ol'ga Zhizneva, Dmitrii Dorliak, Maksim Shtraukh, Valentina Serova, Georgii Sochevko, Irina Volodko
Precious few had seen the film A Severe Young Man when the administration of the Ukrainfil'm studio announced, in the summer of 1936, that the film had been banned for release and distribution. The ban ought not to have come as a surprise to anyone. The official explanations for the decision to shelve the film were vague in their details, but clear and utterly predictable in regards to their fundamental accusation: the film was a self-indulgent exercise in formalist experimentation that utterly failed to adhere to the aesthetic requirements of Socialist Realism. The strict and uncompromising verdict of the authorities provided yet more unnecessary proof that the guardians of Soviet orthodoxy had absolutely no understanding or appreciation of irony. A more accurate translation of the Russian title would be "strict" or "uncompromising," adjectives that can be applied to almost no element of this film save for its protagonist, whose uncompromising character is portrayed with what can only be regarded (at least today) a healthy dose of irony.
The film was a true collaboration between the scriptwriter, Iurii Olesha, and the director Abram Room for whom the script was specifically written. Both men were extremely talented creative individuals who despite their seemingly earnest attempts could never quite find a comfortable fit between their works and the ideological demands of the times. Indeed, Room made A Severe Young Man in Ukraine not by choice, but because he was working in professional exile from Moscow as punishment for various "mistakes" made in his previous films. Room’s best work was often daringly provocative, and even those of his films that received wide distribution were often vilified by the critics. Olesha, for his part, was a successful playwright and prose writer throughout the 1920s, but his best works, while on the surface ideologically correct, contained in their deeper texture disturbingly discordant notes. His literary output decreased after 1928 and, as a writer, he fell largely silent after 1934. The two men shared a common vision for A Severe Young Man and the resulting film contributed to the shame of both in equal measure in 1936.
The film’s content makes no concessions to the usual expectations of Soviet audiences of the 1930s. The cast of characters is extremely unlikely in almost every conventional respect. The action involves the household of the prominent Dr. Stepanov and his young wife, Masha, who share their large and richly adorned mansion with the parasitical Fedor Tsitronov, whose presence in the household is given only the most implausible of explanations. Equally implausible is the acquaintance of the family with the young and proud Grisha Fokin, whose leadership role in the Young Communist League is never clearly defined and who is never seen engaged in any work or professional activity. What we see of Grisha’s public activity has as its locus "the stadium," which features, quite unexpectedly, a classically ornate dressing room and a Greek-style hippodrome. The action and conflict of the film is driven by Grisha’s romantic passion for Masha, which is reciprocated by Masha but opposed, for different reasons, by Stepanov and Tsitronov. While these four main characters move frequently and freely between the luxurious mansion and the stadium, all peripheral characters remain denizens of one or the other world.
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Read also: Abram Room - A Strict Young Man (Strogy Yunosha)