Tag Archives: Soviet

162. THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (1984)

Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa; Legend of the Surami Fortress (alternate translation)

“In Ron Holloway’s reverent documentary Paradjanov: A Requiem… an unbowed Paradjanov speaks nonchalantly of being accused of ‘surrealism,’ never pointing out the surreality of a government that views surrealism as a crime.”–Keith Phipps

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sergei Parajanov, Dodo Abashidze

FEATURING: Leila Alibegashvilli, Sofiko Chiaureli, Zura Kipshidze, Dodo Abashidze, Veriko Andjaparidze

PLOT: On the desolate steppes of Central Asia, a Georgian prince has given slave Durmishkhan his freedom; although he promises to make his fortune and buy her freedom, his lover, Vardo, senses that he will never return. Indeed, in his travels Durmishkhan meets another woman and fathers a child with her, while a bereaved Vardo becomes a celibate fortune teller. Years later, with a Muslim invasion imminent, the czar seeks guidance from Vardo on how to stop the fortress of Suram from collapsing every time his men rebuild it.

The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Legend of Suram Fortress was Sergei Parajanov’s first film after spending 15 years in and out of Soviet prisons on charges ranging from homosexuality, rape, and pornography to bribery and trafficking in religious icons. Many view his persecution as politically motivated. Along with intellectuals and celebrities like , fellow filmmakers , François Truffaut, , , , and all agitated for his release.
  • Parajanov was born in Georgia to Armenian parents, and began his filmmaking career in Ukraine. Each of Parajanov’s major films is built around the folklore of a specific Soviet satellite state: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) revolved around Ukrainian legends, The Color of Pomegranates (1969) dealt with an Armenian poet, and The Legend of Suram Fortress covered the mythology of his native Georgia. Ashik Kerib (1988) shows an Azerbaijani influence.
  • Although the movie bears all of Parajanov’s stylistic trademarks, Dodo Abashidze (who also plays the role of Osman-Agha in the film) is credited as co-director, as he is also in Parajanov’s final completed film, Ashik Kerib. Abashidze has no solo directing credits but was a popular actor, and his influence is viewed as a major factor in getting Parajanov released from jail and allowed to return to filmmaking.
  • The Legend of Suram Fortress was based on Georgian folktales which had been turned into a novel by the writer Daniel Chonkadze in the 19th century. The story had been made into a silent film in 1922.
  • The Suram (or Surami) fortress still stands in Georgia.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: This is a hard choice indeed: The Legend of Suram Fortress is a work of visual poetry, and picking out a single frame is like picking out the single best line from “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey.” Each scene in Suram is a meticulous exercise in staging, pageantry, and costuming. For our representative moment, we’ll chose the ceremony where the peasants pray to St. George to protect them from the (metaphorical Muslim) dragon: costumed worshipers parade by in a line, led by a prancing white horse decorated with silvery tinsel, before a smoky field, while the Saint’s icon appears as a glittering ball of light. The scene is low-tech but beautiful, literally realized with smoke and mirrors. In a movie with such a rigorously realized formalism, almost any other choice of image would be equally indelible.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fans of will likely to groove to the vibe of Sergei Parajanov, recognizing the obsessively arranged compositions and the mysticism that hangs like thick clouds of incense over the film. Rather than taking a wide-angle, pan-theistic view like Jodorowsky, however, Parajanov focuses each of his films narrowly and intently on the legends of a single culture. In Suram Fortress he digs deep to uncover fragmentary narrative relics from ancient Georgia, telling of the legendary foundation of a nation in a confused era when Christianity, Islam and paganism all fought for the hearts of her people. Soaking in a bath of exotic medieval sounds and images, you emerge from the movie feeling Georgia in your bones, while at the same time realizing you know next to nothing about the culture Parajanov simultaneously illuminates and obscures. The visions crumble before your eyes as he builds them.


Festival trailer for The Legend of Suram Fortress

COMMENTS: Although there is a (digressive and fractured) story, the essence of The Legend of Suram Fortress is in its astounding visual tableaux: Continue reading 162. THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (1984)

YOUR GUIDE TO MOSFILM IN ENGLISH ON YOUTUBE

Some of you may know that the venerable Russian studio Mosfilm recently dumped a bonanza of Soviet-era films, many of which have rarely been seen in the West, onto YouTube: a fantastic service to lovers of world cinema, right?  The only catch is that they listed all the titles and descriptions in Russian, with no indication of which movies are subtitled in English (many are). To make matters even worse, a few of the movie titles have been translated into English, but these seem to have been done at random: there’s no relationship between whether the title has been rendered in English and whether the dialogue has.

Thanks to Russian translator and “friend-of-366” Irene Goncharova, who previously gave us the lowdown on Russian cult director Rustam Khamdamov, we’re able to provide you at least with some titles, guidelines and recommendations on exploring the musty archives of Soviet films—there are some real treasures hidden there.  Irene painstakingly figured out which movies were subtitled in English and provided us with the translated titles and matching links, with some commentary of her own (her comments are marked “IG”).  We’ve included IMDB links for more information on the films along with a direct link to the full free movie on YouTube.

UPDATE 6/27: I discovered that more films are subtitled than we originally thought (Irene estimates more than 280!) Although some of the Mosfilm movies have “hard” subtitles (on the image itself), there are additional movies that offer translations via “closed captioning.” Look for a little “CC” button in the bottom right area of the YouTube player; if you see this button and push it (it’s not available on all videos), you get a “pop-up” English translation. The button will turn red when the service is active. You learn something new every day!

If you have any additions or information, leave them in the comments and we’ll incorporate them into the guide.

Let’s begin with the giant of Russian weird films, the only name here known known to Westerners: Andrei Tarkovsky (whose films Nostalghia and Stalker already grace the List of 366).  Several of the Tarkovsky pictures Mosfilm put up on YouTube (Andrei Rublev and Solaris) have already been taken down (we suspect at the request of the Criterion Collection).  The Mirror (1975), which tells a man’s life in a series of disconnected flashbacks, dreams and historical re-enactments, remains available.

FILMS OF WEIRD INTEREST

Assassin of the Tsar (1991, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – Assassin was a co-production between Mosfilm and a British studio.  It stars Malcolm McDowell as a patient in an insane asylum who believes that he assassinated the Tsar in 1918.  McDowell spoke Russian for the production and later dubbed himself into English, which can be disconcerting. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]

Viy (1967, d. Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov) – Read our review.  Virtually the only Soviet horror movie, from a Nicolai Gogol story, with a witch flying on a coffin and a horde of demons at the end.  An excellent film.

Zero Town (1990, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – An engineer is sent to a small provincial town where everyone seems to be crazy, even the nude secretary.   This looks pretty weird.  “Staring Leonid Filatov, a very good actor.”-IG.  [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]

OTHER MOVIES

Alexander Nevsky (1938, d. Sergei Eisenstein) – Prince Nevsky turns back the invading Teutonic knights in this epic war classic.  Closed captioned (push the “CC” button for English translation).  [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]

Ballad of a Soldier (1959, d. Grigori Chukhrai) – Romance set during WWII.  Ballad is highly regarded, but little known in the West.  [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]

The Battleship Potemkin (1925, d. Sergei Eisenstein) – A classic of world cinema; other movies quote from Odessa steps massacre scene all the time.  Closed captioned (push the “CC” button for English translation).  [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]

Full Moon (1998, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – Movie about the “new Russians,” circa 1998. Continue reading YOUR GUIDE TO MOSFILM IN ENGLISH ON YOUTUBE

PLEASE HELP, NON-AMERICAN FRIENDS: A LIST OF OBSURE, FOREIGN (TO US) FILMS

The Internet Movie Database is a wonderful and a terrible thing.  Wonderful, because it allows you to create impressively thorough lists of potentially weird movies.  Terrible, because it may tease you with the names of intriguing movies you may never be able to see.

Below is a list of dozens of highly-rated movies that have been tagged with “surrealism” or similar keywords, broken down by country.  To my knowledge, none of these movies is currently available on DVD, and I suspect that several of them may never have been translated into English.  Any information on these titles by people who are familiar with them would be of enormous value to us in deciding whether or not we should invest time in trying to track them down.  So, my non-American friends, please have at it!  If you leave a comment with some information on any of these titles, I’ll update the body of the text to reflect it.  (Information supplied by readers is added in bold).

Argentinian

  • Razón de mi vida, La (20??) [The Reason for My Life].  This showed up on the IMDB as a highly rated 2008 release a while back.  Now, the link goes to a movie of the same name, but it has no rating and is listed as a 2010 release.  OFFICIAL UPDATE: Per Kino Red: “completed in this month. Release soon (Buenos Aires, Paris and Tokyo). Trailer and teaser (in Spanish) in youtube: NOTE: The film is not based on the Eva Perón autobiography. The title of the film is ironic or parodic about the Eva Perón’s book.” I will add that the trailer looks very promising!
  • Rosaura a las 10 (1958) [Rosaura at 10 o’clock].  Alon thinks it’s only borderline weird at best.

Brazilian

  • Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964) [God and the Devil in the Land of the SunPer Alon: “interesting, beautifully filmed and edited, movie about the drama of the Brazilian dispossessed… but I wouldn’t consider it weird by any measure.”
  • O Anjo Nasceu (1969) [The Angel Was Born]
  • Per Alon: “…seems to be famous for its unconventional camerawork and editing. The film tells the story of two murderers, one of whom has mystic visions, and was regarded as quite gory for its time.”

  • Terra em Transe.  No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, Entranced Land or Land in Anguish. Has read it’s more “daring” than Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol by the same director.

Czech/Czechoslovakian

  • Adéla jeste nevecerela (1978).  Per LRobHubbard: translates to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet. From the director of Lemonade Joe (which we do plan to review).  “Spoofs the ‘Nick Carter’ detective stories, featuring Carter investigating strange disappearances, which involve a carnivorous plant, the ‘Adele’ of the title.”  No Region 1 release.  Worth seeing, but not necessarily weird.
  • Akumulátor 1 (1994).
  • Jak utopit doktora Mrácka aneb Konec vodniku v Cechách (1974) [How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer]
  • Kytice (2000) [Wild Flowers]
  • Lepsie byt bohaty a zdravy ako chudobny a chory (1993) [It’s Better to Be Wealthy and Healthy Than Poor and Ill]
  • Nejasná zpráva o konci sveta (1997) [An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World]
  • Nevesta (1970).
  • Pane, vy jste vdova! (1970) [You Are a Widow, Sir]
  • Postav dom, zasad strom (1980) [Build a House, Plant a Tree]
  • Sedím na konári a je mi dobre (1989). No English translation of the title. Probably never translated into English.
  • Tajemství hradu v Karpatech (1981) [The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians].  Per LRobHubbard: from the director of and similar to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet (above) but a pastiche/parody. The idea may be from a story by Jules Verne.
  • Tisícrocná vcela (1983) [The Millennial Bee]
  • Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (1977).  No English translation of the title.

French

  • La Cicatrice intérieure (1972).  Written by and featuring glacial chanteuse Nico (best known here for her work with The Velvet Underground).
  • La Dernière femme (1976) [The Last Woman].  Despite the presence of a young Gerard Depardieu, I am not sure this was ever translated into English for home video.  Controversial on release due to its sexual content.  Per Irene, not a weird film.

Greek

  • Souvliste tous! Etsi tha paroume to kouradokastro (1981) [Barbecue them!].  A Greek correspondent tells me this is basically unknown even in Greece and no DVDs are available.  It is on Google video, with no English subtitles.

Italian

  • Capricci (1969).  By Carmelo Bene.
  • Don Giovanni (1970).  Also by Carmelo Bene.
  • Fantozzi (1975) and Il Secondo tragico Fantozzi (1976).  These popular Italian comedies seem to have never been released in America.  I gather Fantozzi is something like the Italian Monsieur Hulot?
  • La Rabbia (2008).  With Faye Dunaway and Franco Nero in the cast, I would assume this might see the light of day soon.

Indian

  • Poi (2006).

Japanese

  • Den-en ni shisu (1974) [Pastoral Hide and Seek]
  • Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (1970) [He Died After the War]

Mexican

  • Pafnucio Santo (1977).  Per Alon: “…seems promising… directed by Jodorowsky’s cinematographer… the trailer on YouTube is rather terse.”

Polish

  • Ewa chce spac (1958).  No English translation of the title.  Per Irene Goncharova, “a mere comedy… I didn’t find it weird.”
  • Jak daleko stad, jak blisko (1972) [How Far, How Near]
  • Walkower (1965) [Walkover]. Per Irene Goncharova, “A Polish movie, just drama, nothing weird.”

Russian/Soviet

  • Den vyborov (2007) [Election Day].  Per Irene Goranchova: “…absolute trash, a really BAD Russian movie. I sometimes laugh watching it. Bad, bad, bad! Nothing weird…”
  • Posetitel muzeya (1989). [Visitor of a Museum]?
  • Sobachye serdtse (1988). Literally, Heart of a Dog. Based on a Mikhail Bulgakov novel that was also adapted by the Italians into a film called Cuore di cane.  Produced for television?  Per Irene Goncharova: It was a television production, although there may also be another filmed version.  “…a good movie, quite weird.”
  • Zhena kerosinshchika (1988) [Kerosene Salesman’s Wife]?  Per Irene Goncharova: hasn’t seen it, but looks weird from the description.

Spanish

  • Amanece, que no es poco (1989). No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, English translation may be Isn’t dawn enough? “…a masterpiece of surreal humour. You have a serious candidate for The List.”
  • Don Juan Tenorio (1952).  Alon thinks it’s unlikely to be weird, mentions that its notoriety may come from the fact that Salvador Dalí served as the costume designer.

In the interest of thoroughness, we’re potentially saving a spot on the List for all these movies, so any help as to whether they are must-sees or duds will be greatly appreciated!