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Landscapes of the Soul: The Cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko

Landscapes of the Soul: The Cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko

Unquestionably one of the towering figures of Soviet-era cinema, Alexander Dovzhenko is one of the few filmmakers to whom the label "film poet" could aptly apply. There is an extraordinary delicacy in his use of visual metaphor, a complexity in his use of imagery, that separates him from his more ideologically driven contemporaries Eisenstein, Vertov and Pudovkin. While all of them were influenced by the Constructivist movement at that time, Dovzhenko drew his inspiration from deep roots in Ukranian folk culture in his passionate celebration of his native landscapes and the people who worked them. Nowhere can this be seen more powerfully than in the film considered his masterpiece, EARTH, a stunning work that celebrates a natural order of being that reaches from seeds planted in the ground to the stars that light up the sky.

As strong as his links were to his Soviet contemporaries, it's become increasingly clear over the years that Dovzhenko's work is clearly in keeping with that strain of European modernism, represented by artists such as Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Sholem Aleichem, and Federico Garcia Lorca, that sought inspiration for new forms of art in folk tales, imagery and traditions. Like that of Eisenstein, his style of filmmaking ran afoul of the Stalinist cultural authorities, and his post-silent era career is sadly characterized by blocked projects or films that he was forced to drastically alter. Yet even in his most politically flavored works, his extraordinary sensibility for capturing nature on screen never failed him; even his war documentaries can be read as laments for the landscapes he knew and loved so well.

Also like Eisenstein, Dovzhenko devoted much of his final years to teaching, and his students included many of those who would revolutionize Soviet cinema in the 1960s: Andrei Tarkovsky, Larissa Shepitko, Andrei Konchalovsky, etc. In addition to all of Dovzhenko's extant works, this series will also include CHRONICLE OF THE YEARS OF FIRE, based on his script but filmed by his wife and close collaborator, Yulia Solntseva.

Richard Pena