The 1917 October Revolution did not settle smoothly into Russia; in 1919 civil war pitted the Bolshevik victors against counterrevolutionaries, the Reds and the Whites. The first decade of sound had already produced an outstanding film about the Russian Civil War: Chapaev (1934), by the (unrelated) team of Sergei and Georgy Vasiliev. My iz Kronshtadta was another.
A unit of sailors from coastal Kronstadt is mobilized to defend Petrograd from the White seige against it. This confrontation underscores the contemporary need for Soviet vigilance against current enemies.
My iz Kronshtadta was written by Vsevolod Vishnevsky, who at 17 had fought in the First World War and, as a Red, in the 1917 revolution and subsequent civil war. Efim Dzigan’s strikingly beautiful film owes much of its authenticity to the experience that informed Vishnevsky’s script. However, Dzigan’s filmmaking also is wonderful. Consider the Baltic Sea approach of the White vessel to Kronstadt: three shots, beginning with a long-shot of the ship, followed by progressively closer shots of it. The ship appears to move effortlessly screen-right throughout the sequence; stealthy silence further renders the movement dreamlike. The camera does not move, and therefore the ship’s progress becomes an invasion of space: an eerie and powerful evocation of the idea of invasion as well as an action suited to that idea.
Many other scenes are equally memorable: the Kronstadt detachment and other Red warriors sleeping on the floor and steps of the children’s home, and they and the young children interacting the next morning; the advancing singing battalion, their voices struggling against the din of gunfire (thus associating the Reds with art and its affirmation of life), with the added poignancy of the death of one of them—a final stilling of his voice; the drowning murders of all but one of the captured sailors, each with a heavy rock tied to him and his hands tied behind his back, some pushed from a ledge into the sea, others electing to drop of their own accord; their caps washing to shore; dressed as a woman, the sole survivor’s rowing to Kronstadt against a turbulent tide; the tracking shot of an expanse of slaughter; the Red band playing music as battle rages; the final battle, with Reds marching and cowardly Whites (in contrast to Reds earlier) leaping to their deaths into the sea.
The film ends as one marching sailor asks aloud of all Soviet enemies, “Who will take Petrograd now?”—a stirring finish to an irresistible film.
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