REVOLUTIONIST (Yevgeni Bauer, 1917, Russia, 35m, BW)
Revolyutsioner (original title)
3 April 1917 (Russia)
Director: Yevgeni Bauer
Writer: Ivane Perestiani
Stars: Ivane Perestiani, Vladimir Strizhevsky, Zoya Barantsevich
In 1907, the Russian authorities learn that a revolutionary known as 'Granddad' is living in hiding with his brother. The revolutionary is soon arrested and sent to Siberia. After ten years of struggling to survive in harsh conditions, he is finally released when the Tsarist government is overthrown in February 1917. He is welcomed home as a hero, but he soon finds that even his own son has different views than he does about the future of Russia.
The first reel of "The Revolutionary" is missing (or "not preserved", as the video says), so it's difficult to appreciate it. One gets the gist of the narrative after a while. What is left of the film begins with the arrest of Grandad, the revolutionary, during Tsarist rule. He's later regarded a martyr when he returns from exile in Siberia after the overthrow of the Tsar. The film ends, with Grandad (and presumably director Yevgeni Bauer) pleading to the Bolsheviks and revolutionaries to continue Russia's involvement in the Great War. Of course, that didn't happen. As a movie, this is only a fair effort, at least by Yevgeni Bauer's high standards. But as a piece of history, it is quite interesting. It is one of a very few significant cultural works that survive from the period between the two revolutions in Russia in 1917, since it was made after the Tsar was overthrown in February, but before the Provisional Government was itself overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the fall. Moreover, its perspective and story are clearly drawn from the way that things stood in the days of the Provisional Government.
The story itself centers on the character of "The Revolutionary", known only as 'Granddad'. Exiled to Siberia by the Tsarist police, he returns when the Tsarist government is overthrown, and he immediately throws himself right into the questions of the day. Of particular importance (in the movie and at the time) is the question of whether Russia should continue to fight the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. It's really an interesting setup in itself, but Bauer is uncharacteristically formulaic in crafting and in telling the story. The first half or so works well enough, but then it becomes too simplistic, even predictable. Because Bauer's melodramas about psychological obsessions and doomed relationships are so deep and haunting, it's possible that his other movies just create expectations for this one that are too high. If it had been made by a less exceptional film-maker, it might not be such a disappointment.
Most of Bauer's films that I've seen aren't so much of the social realism, message film type. I prefer his death-obsessed tragedies, such as "After Death", "Daydreams" (both 1915) and "The Dying Swan" (1917). There are still some hints of masterful direction here, such as the low-key lighting. The scenes of snow falling and the photography of the bright snow are lovely. It seems ideal for filming. One of the most beautiful compositions of Bauer's work was such: the snow-covered meeting in "After Death". Anyhow, this is not essential Bauer viewing. It's unfortunate that this film is incomplete, but the real tragedy is that Bauer's films in general remain largely forgotten.
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