The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
“Now [war] supports science, because war needs science.”
Bookending the collapse of the Soviet Union are two events that undercut people’s faith in Soviet Communism: the Party’s 20th Congress in 1956, where Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin, whom the nation’s propaganda machine had long elevated to the status of a Lincoln (an event that “happened twice,” since the full text of the denouncement wasn’t made public until 1989); the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, in 1986. Mikhail Romm’s 9 dney odnogo goda relates stunningly to both events. It could not have been made during Stalin’s more repressive era, and (however obliquely) it prophesies Chernobyl by focusing on the dangers of nuclear radiation. Its protagonist, Grusev, is a scientific researcher, a nuclear physicist whose exposure to radiation is slowly killing him, unraveling his marriage as well as his life, and testing his resolve to press on for the greater good of humankind—the contribution his experiments are making to Soviet military strength. In one poignant interlude, Grusev visits his father’s farm; this dying man’s trip to his past is also a collective journey to the agricultural roots of Soviet Communism, suggesting the rift between its idealism and current reality, in however large measure the latter is the result of the Cold War that the U.S. impressed upon the Soviet Union and the rest of the world following World War II.
Starkly composed shots and editing, the film’s dark grayness (punctuated by white lab coats), and one other recurrent technique contribute to the film’s pervasive fatalism. Low, upwardly angled cameras in Soviet films once showed human forms and faces against the eternal sky, implying a lyrical, progressive Soviet destiny. What irony! Romm uses this camera position and tilt in claustrophobic indoor shots.
A lean, analytical film, this.
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