Facets, $40, 75 min, 1981
This documentary look at the life of Dmitri Shostakovich was begun by Semyon Aranovich, but was largely put together by Alexander Sokurov, the heir-apparent (for 20 years now) to that other Russian master of intensely measured, immaculately composed moviemaking, Andrei Tarkovsky. Suppressed by KGB censors, the original prints were almost destroyed.
Sokurov uses a combination of archival photography and just about every scrap of historically important paper he can find to tell the story of the intense young Shostakovich’s precocious rise to prominence, his subsequent blacklisting under Stalin and his eventual post-dictator rehabilitation. But what sets this documentary apart is the impressionistic use of Soviet stock footage to provide context, as stark, verité images of daily Russian life are juxtaposed with grand, Riefenstahl-type footage of state parades. Sokurov’s fine eye for composition and his love of the ultra-slow pan is ideally suited to working with still photography — and a soundtrack by Shostakovich doesn’t hurt either.
Slim: Editor’s notes, brief bio, filmography. What really should be included is a dramatic imagining of the attempts to destroy the original print, featuring two bumbling KGB agents and a Georgian farm girl with a heart of gold. Just a thought.
Slow and beautiful, to the last shot.