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
Whatever its goals, Maxim Gorky felt that the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would bring only heartache to Russia. He wrote: “Lenin and Trotsky have no idea about freedom or human rights. They are already corrupted by the poison of power.” Gorky’s death in 1936, officially from tuberculosis, motivated friend Mark Donskoi to make the Gorky trilogy and hid, many felt, Stalin’s assassination of Gorky.
In the third part, Moi universitety, Aleksei Peshkov, now in his mid-teens, lives in a Kazan slum, hoping to enter university. A camera surveys open courtyard windows before lighting on his: a woman empties a wash basin; a woman howls as she is beaten; a hopeful singer practices. Aleksei, chastised for his awkward writing, curses the “oppressiveness” of grammar!
Tsarist police are making arrests. Aleksei joins an army of impoverished Volga dockers in rescuing cargo from a sinking barge: a joyous passage of humanity pulling together at hard labor. But the next job the boy finds is in a sweatshop bakery (the model for the work house in Lean’s 1948 Oliver Twist). Aleksei shows compassion for fellow workers and stands up to their uncaring boss. “I feed forty people!” the latter boasts. Aleksei counters, “They feed you.” Aleksei helps foment rebellion among co-workers, who realize dignity and strength in taking a united stand against the boss, who has endeavored to increase their work load beyond endurance: an extended dynamic passage.
Aleksei’s suicide attempt, following the arrest of an underground journalist friend and the capitulation to their boss of the bakery workers, is an embarrassing hump for the film to get over. (“Hopeless dreams,” diagnoses the doctor as he stands over the recovering patient at hospital!)
As ocean waves crash nearby, Aleksei helps a stranger give birth, restoring him to the path of his radiant destiny.
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