AMONG PEOPLE (Mark Donskoi, 1938)

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

The second part of Mark Donskoi’s Gorky trilogy, V lyudyakh, finds Aleksei Peshkov—the future Maxim Gorky—out in the world. He tries his hand at a number of jobs, only to discover that some there will treat him as unfairly as had his grandfather, whom he now confronts, upon returning home for a visit, with a new, stronger voice. The form and texture of the film have changed. Whereas The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (1938) conveys life’s rough, irregular rhythms, the tailored episodes of the second part suggest instead carefully reflected-upon incidents that have challenged the boy to take charge of his life. It is ironic, given his socialist destiny, that Aleksei becomes proficient as an apprentice Orthodox Christian icon maker.
     Yet the second part has a kind of roughness, too: the discontinuous form of the narrative, which seems to jump from place to place, job to job, persons to persons. Thus Donskoi brilliantly conveys Aleksei’s “shopping around” for a sense of his place in the world. Aleksei’s imagination, motives and impulses are social rather than egoistical, and therefore the film’s lack of attention to his individual psychology, or anyone else’s for that matter, is true to the spirit and orientation of its subject. Donskoi shaped his material, and gave it such features, so that others might better know his late friend.
     Above all, he made a heart-stirring film—as when, at the close, Aleksei’s elderly peasant grandmother, watching the boy’s boat leave, addresses him out of earshot: “You won’t see me again. By the time you return, I will be dead. How wonderful the world is!” Fixed, the camera records what she sees: her grandson passing beyond her reach. Akulina Ivanovna’s life has been hard; Aleksei’s life may be better. How wonderful the world is!

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