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Russian Inferno: The Films of Alexei Guerman

July 29, 2012 - August 23, 2012


“One of the most overlooked of great directors.”—Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound

“Among the most important retrospectives in years.”—Tony Pipolo, Artforum

Having made only five feature films over the course of nearly forty-five years (none available commercially in the U.S.), the Russian filmmaker Alexei Guerman may be little known by general filmgoers, but he has achieved cult status among many enthusiastic cineastes. Born in 1938 in Leningrad, the son of noted author Yuri Guerman, Alexei apprenticed under the legendary director Grigori Kozintsev before launching his own career; he soon fell afoul of the authorities, however, who banned his solo directorial debut, the World War II film Trial on the Road (1971), citing its “antiheroic” stance. Visually stunning, boasting long, elaborate tracking shots and crisp black-and-white cinematography, Guerman’s works are aesthetic feasts; yet, just as important for him is the seeking of historical truth to exorcise the “soul” of an era, whether World War II (Trial on the Road), the Red Terror (Seventh Companion, 1967), the 1930s (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1984), or Stalin’s last days (Khrustalyov, My Car!, 1998). With Lapshin and Khrustalyov (both of which screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the PFA Theater during their rare American screenings), Guerman’s visual style entered another realm entirely: baroque, dense, and relentlessly on the move across realistic, yet increasingly grotesque, landscapes. (It’s no surprise that he once referred to Fellini as “cinema’s greatest realist.”) The films not only embrace the inferno of Russian history, but embody it in every frame. We are proud to present all of Guerman’s features, along with a film he cowrote, the key Kazakh work The Fall of Otrar (1990).

Read Tony Pipolo's Artforum article about the New York presentation of this retrospective.

Read a 2004 Kinoeye interview with Guerman.

Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer

Sunday, July 29, 2012
5:00 p.m. The Seventh Companion
Alexei Guerman/Grigori Aronov (U.S.S.R., 1967). New Print! Set during Russia’s Red and White Terrors, Guerman’s first film follows a former tsarist officer turned Revolutionary sympathizer who finds himself adrift between both worlds. (89 mins)

Saturday, August 4, 2012
6:00 p.m. My Friend Ivan Lapshin
Alexei Guerman (U.S.S.R., 1984). The adventures of the varied inhabitants of a 1930s communal flat reveal a world still optimistic about Communism, yet poised to be devoured by Stalinism. Simultaneously hopeful and mournful, realist and fabulist, Lapshin was named the best Soviet film of all time in a 1987 poll of Russian critics. (100 mins)

Thursday, August 9, 2012
7:00 p.m. Twenty Days Without War
Alexei Guerman (U.S.S.R., 1976). A writer/soldier is given a brief leave from the front in Guerman’s most tender film, written by Soviet war poet Konstantin Simonov. Having survived the Battle of Stalingrad, Lopatin (Yuri Nikulin) returns to Tashkent, and bears silent witness to his fellow travelers’ sorrows and desires. (100 mins)

Thursday, August 16, 2012
7:00 p.m. Trial on the Road
Alexei Guerman (U.S.S.R., 1971/1986) New Print! A former Nazi collaborator rejoins his Russian brethren to fight against the Germans in this WWII war film/philosophical treatise, banned for fifteen years for “de-heroicizing” Soviet history. “A bleak description of war that ranks with the stories of Solzhenitsyn and Isaac Babel”(Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound). (98 mins)

Saturday, August 18, 2012
6:00 p.m. Khrustalyov, My Car!
Alexei Guerman (U.S.S.R., 1998). Guerman’s notorious film maudit, set during the infamous “Doctor’s Plot” Stalinist purge, is “an orchestrated cataclysm, a narrative inferno that demands to be inhabited rather than decoded; it is Russian cinema’s answer to Finnegan’s Wake” (Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound). (137 mins)

Thursday, August 23, 2012
7:00 p.m. The Fall of Otrar
Ardak Amirkulov (Kazakhstan, 1990). "A pageant of medieval delirium in which the great Khan extinguishes an entire civilization the way a CEO would downsize a corporation,” Amirkulov's epic (cowritten by Guerman), “is shot through with the strangest kind of melancholy, brought on by the knowledge that an entire way of life is going to disappear" (Film Comment). (165 mins)

Tour organized by Seagull Films, in collaboration with Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, with the assistance of Lenfilm Studios. Generous support provided by George Gund III. With thanks to Scott Foundas and Alla Verlotsky. Coordinated at BAM/PFA by Film Curator Kathy Geritz and Jason Sanders.