By the Bluest of Seas (Hyperkino Edition) DVD
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Directed by Boris Barnet
Produced in 1936
Main Language - Russian with English subtitles
This cinematic fairytale from 1936 finds two sailors shipwrecked on an island in the Caspian where both fall for the same girl. Graeme Hobbs is entranced.
'It's an amazing film. A salty, windy, sunny film. You don't seem to watch it or listen to it, you're simply absorbing it, like the blue sea air, gulp after gulp,' said film scholar Mark Kushnirov of Boris Barnet's 1935 film, By the Bluest of Seas. A lovely, windblown 'cinematic fairytale', its storyline is simplicity itself: two sailors fetch up on an island in the Caspian sea after their boat is shipwrecked and find work at its 'Lights of Communism' collective farm. They also both fall in love with the same girl - the winsomely smiling farm manager Mashenka, who teaches her lovesick suitors a lasting lesson about love and faithfulness.
It's all done with a smile and an occasional song, and the film is thoroughly imbued with its island environment, this signalled early on by numerous shots of the sun sheening a turbulent sea, the rolling sparkle of waves, and gulls shown wheeling in front of an immense sun. Barnet's entrancement with the elements is given form by Mikhail Kirilov's sublime cinematography, his ingenious long-lensed filming of the sea prompting actor Lev Sverdlin (Youssouf) to remark that he 'captured the sea's emotions on film'. At one point his camera even briefly takes the perspective of a flying fish.
This is a film to savour for its unfettered enjoyment in visual delight. Some memorable scenes: Mashenka and Youssouf eating lemons as they walk the shoreline and share sour faces; a silhouette of fishermen rowing across a sun-silvered sea and then bringing their boat home, Man of Aran-like, against the crash of waves; the slow-motion tumble of glass beads to Mashenka's feet as she rips them from her necklace. It's even dreamlike in places too - as with somnolent comrades in a meeting giving the floor entirely to the complaint of Youssouf against his friend Alyosha, or their mysterious disappearance when Alyosha takes the floor to reply.
It's nice to see faces familiar from other productions of the era too, notably Semyon Svashenko and Stepan Shkurat (the lead and his father from Aleksandr Dovzhenko's Earth).
Unsurprisingly, the script was officially derided at the time for its 'emotional' nature, and the director chided for cutting up Sergey Potosky's swelling score. None of this matters now. It has fetched up on the shores of the 21st century like a smiling stripy-topped sailor gazing in wonder at the lovely girl sitting in a boat nearby.
Graeme Hobbs on 8th January 2012
Author of 277 reviews
A beautiful film from Barnet that encourages you to forget any stereotypes you might have of early Russian cinema, By the Bluest of Seas begins with two sailors, shipwrecked on an island in the Caspian Sea. They find work as sailor and mechanic for the fishing boats of the 'Lights of Communism' collective and vie for the same girl, the beautiful Misha, who is engaged to another.
The film is presented as a 2-disc 'hyperkino edition' which features the standard film, with subtitles, on one disc, with the second disc featuring numerous scene-specific annotations, clips and documents (in Russian and in English) that can be viewed on screen and which contextualise the film and enhance the viewer's understanding. It is one of the most exciting developments in DVD for years, and especially valuable for important works of world cinema whose historical contexts crave further exploration.
Length: 69 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 22nd December 2011
Cat No: HPK12
- 2 discs