VOLGA-VOLGA (Grigori Aleksandrov, 1938)

Exuberant, melodious, populated with zany characters, Bonra-Bonra is a Soviet comedy. This time, director Grigori Aleksandrov’s star, wife Lyubov Orlova, plays Dunia, nicknamed “Strelka,” a vivacious young postal carrier who heads one of two teams sent from her village to the Moscow Musical Olympiad. Will they win for best song? Strelka’s team is folk-based; the other, headed by Aliosha, more formal, foreign-influenced, hifalutin. Will these two get their disparate music together? After all, love is in the air. Theft, too; for balalaika factory manager Ivan Ivanovich Byvalov, the “man of the past,” is out to steal Strelka’s song and claim it as his own. For a while, Nature seems to be on Byvalov’s side; the passage when a storm sends Strelka’s composition to the winds and, finally, the river—there are enough sheets of paper for a suite of symphonies!—is both gorgeous and deeply moving: the climax that puts in jeopardy a fair outcome in the musical competition. No need to worry, though; Aleksandrov would dedicate his film to “the people’s creativity.”
     For the initial steamboat race down the Volga, one must suspend disbelief; while long-shots convince (with beauteous Nature as authentic background), up close the use of back projection is dismayingly obvious. Still, one is carried along by the high spirits. Contrast Aleksandrov’s manic energy, say, to the folk-feel—the rich Americana—of John Ford’s Steamboat ’Round the Bend (1935).
     The result is froth, but not without disquieting satirical stabs at current Soviet policy and retribution. Indeed, the film’s boisterous nature cannot conceal its thorough sophistication. For instance, the quarrel between Strelka and Aloisha as to which one loves the other more brings to hilarious fruition the film’s subtext addressing idiotic competitiveness.
     Stalin, who loved it, viewed the film more than a hundred times.

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