By the Bluest of Seas

Director: Boris Barnet
Year: 1936
Rating: 6.0
Country: Russian

I picked up this Russian film on DVD a few weeks back because it was fairly cheap, but it turns out that many real film critics consider this film a masterpiece and the director Boris Barnet to be one of Russia's most important directors. All news to me I admit. Most of Barnet's films were not available with English subs for many years and his films remained fairly unknown. But now a few have made it to DVD with subs and a re-appraisal of his work has led to an elevation of his status.

Perhaps it was just as well that I watched this without being aware of its reputation as that can influence how you watch a film. I thought it was a lovely little film (runs about 70 minutes) that is a ravishing tone poem as much as anything, but isn't particularly dramatic, involving or demanding on the viewer. A slight romantic fairy tale comedy with a few songs and a great score - it has a lightness and optimistic mood that feels out of place in Stalin's Soviet Union of 1936 when he was purging millions of people and a famine that killed millions was finally over. Stalin - who was a huge movie fan - American Westerns primarily - apparently didn't like this very much as it didn't have as strong a realistic socialist message as he would have liked, but at least Barnet wasn't sent off to a gulag. The message is there but it fades into the background of a love triangle that feels like it is surely leading towards tragedy but instead becomes a joyous celebration of friendship.

Two friends are adrift when their boat sinks and after a few days holding on to a piece of wood, they make land on a small fishing island in the Caspian Sea (both looking remarkably well after two days in the sea). Oddly, this turns out to be where they were ordered to go and work with the farming and fishing commune. One of the commune leaders is Masha, a striking blonde with a broadside of a smile, that both men immediately fall in love with. Considering that she is the only attractive woman on the farm, this isn't too surprising. The two friends try to outmaneuver one another for her affections.

The sea itself plays a large role in the film as it begins with a lengthy montage of waves crashing (and I thought to myself, oh oh this could get boring fast) - and throughout the film the director returns constantly to images of the sea as a living thing. Much of the film has no dialogue - a written narrative explains the story - and the silence is filled with this dramatic musical score from Sergei Pototsky and stunning black and white cinematography from Mikhail Kirillov. This is more a visual treat than a narrative one.