Outskirts (Hyperkino Edition) DVD
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Directed by Boris Barnet
Produced in 1933
Main Language - Russian
Coming four years before Renoir's La Grande Illusion, Outskirts can stand proudly alongside it, says James Oliver. And the hyperkino format adds a wealth of supporting information too.
The work of Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet is finally getting just a little of the attention it deserves, thanks to these Hyperkino editions of his films. Very different to the popular image of a 'Soviet filmmaker', Barnet was an amused, affectionate chronicler of ordinary lives and Outskirts shows him at something like his best.
It begins in 1914, in a small provincial town, at the 'outskirts' of respectable Russian life. Things proceed much as they have always done until war erupts. Nationalist fervour spreads and the young men volunteers to leave home to go and fight in the trenches. As the conflict rages, so the town is used to contain German prisoners of war. While some of the town are hostile, others find a common currency with these newcomers. Discontent with the war and its architects is growing. Could a more revolutionary approach bring an end to the conflict?
Outskirts is one of the most singular of war films. It begins almost as a proto-Loony Toons cartoon; a horse complains to us about its work load; a young Romeo delivers an exaggerated wink to camera when he persuades a young lady to 'step 'out' with him. Things become more sombre when war arrives but Barnet retains his terrific sense of humanity, never denying the horrors of war but preferring to concentrate on the camaraderie of the troops. Both at the front and back at home, Barnet stresses the compassion of his characters, emphasising that there are fraternal ties that are greater than nationalism.
Indeed, it's not going too far to compare Outskirts to Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (which, it should be noted, was made some four years after Barnet's film). Both films develop cross border friendships and lament how war divides men who should be comrades, although only Barnet's film – alas – has a talking horse.
This focus on kindness and solidarity makes a refreshing change from the Bolshevik hogwash normally to be found in early Soviet cinema. But then Boris Barnet was an unusual filmmaker. He was also, as this film amply testifies, one of the best.
James Oliver on 17th May 2012
Author of 146 reviews
A tender love story between a Russian girl and a German prisoner of war given permission to work in her village, Outskirts is Boris Barnet's first sound film.
The setting is the year 1914, first in a total backwater and then, as war breaks out, at the front as well. The plot is simply a series of episodes, initially comic though increasingly grim, depicting ordinary folk. Though war is here and the great Soviet revolution is coming, people - as always - seem more interested in love and clowning around.
The film is presented as a 2-disc 'hyperkino edition'. Disc 1 contains the standard film in the best available print, with optional subtitles. Disc 2 contains the film, plus numerous scene-specific annotations, video clips and documents (in Russian and in English). These can be viewed on screen, contextualising the film and enhancing the viewer’s understanding. This innovative format works extremely well and is one of the most exciting developments in DVD for years. It is especially valuable for important works of world cinema whose historical contexts crave further exploration.
Length: 99 mins
Cat No: HPK13
Format: DVD B&W
- 2 discs