With Constantinople and Paris still ahead, I have just watched the first half of Aleksandr Alov and Vladimir Naumov’s 3¼-hour Flight, based on “works by Mikhail Bulgakov,” including the play with which it shares its title. Because of Bulgakov’s tsarist sympathies, Stalin’s regime prevented the 1928 play from being produced. Stalin, at least in a rational mood, would not have objected to this film, however.
The film’s first movement is magnificent. This corresponds to late 1920, when the Russian Civil War is repeating the Bolshevik victory of three years earlier. The wide-angle widescreen shots of battle are both intricate and tremendous; in the finest of these, explosions send (in long-shot) antlike figures scurrying up a hill—a stupendous metaphor for historic upheaval. Early on, the palette of color cinematographer Levan Paatashvili leans on black, white, gray and silver to conjure a phantasmagoria of war—something pitched between reality and memory, where, implicitly, 1970 Soviet audiences may have found themselves. In this selection of “colors,” the red flag becomes a startlingly “unreal” bit of visual punctuation. Soon after, the admission of faint earthen brown and grassy green nudges Alov and Naumov’s vision from its dreamlike state, while dialogue scenes, both outside and in-, are dominated by General Khludov, who is addicted to hanging men and having his men be musical on the battlefield. When the Crimea falls to the Reds, Khludov’s disposition sours further beneath his veneer of being philosophical.
Alas, the film suffers as well, becoming a relatively stagy thing. Apart from Khludov, characters tend to blur into insignificance and intrusiveness.
The mass emigration of Whites will follow. There is no “epic” here, because the “epic” part of the action (for better or worse) would have to do with the birth of Soviet Russia.
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