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Memoria e Ricerca

A Pacifist in Stalinist Cinema: Okraina by Boris Barnet (1933)

di Gian Piero Piretto
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 49 (2015), p. 43

In the Soviet Union, the switch from silent to sound cinema was not just a technological revolution, but also a chance, for the Communist Party leadership, to get rid of the ideologically suspicious avant-garde cinema of the twenties. The years of the transition to sound, from 1930 to 1934, are sort of a long dissolve, where the old “poetic” montage cinema coexists with the new “prose” of Socialist Realism. Boris Barnet’s Okraina is right in the middle of this complex phenomenon. On the one hand, the film tells a story typical of propaganda Soviet cinema: the origins (in World War One) and the outbreak of the October Revolution. But the style and the point of view chosen by Barnet are totally uncommon. Barnet tells a story of “little people”, lost somewhere in the immense Russian countryside, far from Saint Petersburg and the Winter Palace (Okraina means “province”). Moreover, Okraina tells this story in a light, almost comic style. It is precisely this “Chekhov approach” that made Party critics very distrustful toward this film. The essay analyzes Okraina, and traces the history of its reception, from the coldness of the thirties, to the late rediscovery during the Khrushchev years, and then during the Perestroika. Key words: Boris Barnet; internationalism; October Revolution; pacifism; post-Stalinism; Socialist Realism.