Sergei (and Fedor) Bondarchuk's And Quiet Flows the Don (Tikhii Don, 2006)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg © 2008

The four-volume Cossack saga that brought Mikhail Sholokhov recognition as a classic of Soviet literature and world-wide fame when it became known in the English-speaking world as And Quiet Flows the Don, caused controversies from the days when its first volume was published in serialized form in 1928. Yet, neither the disputes surrounding Sholokhov's authorship [1] nor his firm integration into the Communist establishment from Stalin to Brezhnev, neither his political kowtowing nor his betrayal of the unwritten writer's code of honor when he rudely attacked dissidents from a Party tribune could seriously harm the status of And Quiet Flows the Don as arguably the most weighty foundation epic of Soviet civilization. And a popular epic it was: its blend of passionate love story and Civil War chronicle appealed to millions of readers, while the author's command of Russian, including his rich array of regionalisms, impressed even skeptical critics.

Not surprisingly, Soviet cinema showed an interest in Sholokhov's epic even before it was finished, resulting in a black-and-white adaptation of the first volume in 1930. By the late 1940s, when all four parts were finally completed, plans for a new screen adaptation [2] were aborted, primarily due to the war, but also because of the complexities of the narrative that did not sit well with some hacks in the period of “conflictlessness.” It took the managerial skills and muscular direction of Sergei Gerasimov finally to pull off a three-part screen version in 1957/58. That five-and-a-half hour long spectacle seemed to be the non-plus-ultra And Quiet Flows the Don, after which no other cinematic treatment of the novel was necessary or desirable. [3] Yet, at the most unlikely moment, when Soviet civilization was disintegrating and its values and historical legitimacy waning, another attempt was made to transfer the novel both to television and widescreen.

The making of the third And Quiet Flows the Don in 1990-92 and its dramatic aftermath was a veritable saga itself. The director, who had gained world recognition for stemming projects of similar largesse before, encountered one insurmountable obstacle after another. Already in the late 1980s, when Bondarchuk made first steps toward the realization of his long-harbored dream, the atmosphere in the Soviet Union was far from welcoming to such an endeavor. Sholokhov's pedestal, his 1965 Nobel Prize notwithstanding, was no longer unshakeable, and the formerly taboo discussion of his alleged plagiarism of And Quiet Flows the Don began to spill over into perestroika media. Bondarchuk himself was no more untouchable either: the furious ad hominem attacks at the Fifth Filmmakers' Congress in 1986 had left him hurt, cutting down his influence considerably.[3a] On a practical level, his plan simultaneously to helm a twenty-part television mini-series and a full-length feature version of And Quiet Flows the Don for international release seemed too heavy to stem during an increasingly money-conscious period of the Soviet film industry, not to mention how ideologically out of touch it was with its time. But after the lackluster reception of his 1985 adaptation of Boris Godunov, and with Soviet cinema in deepening decline and disorientation, the director was desperate to get a new production moving. Bondarchuk agreed to reduce the television mini-series to ten parts instead of twenty, as well as to casting foreign stars in the lead roles in order to make the film marketable for the West. He, if anybody, had no reason to be frightened of these conditions in light of his experience on the international arena starting in the 1950s, having successfully worked with foreign producers such as Dino de Laurentiis and eliciting first-rate performances from Western stars such as Rod Steiger in Waterloo (1970). In hindsight, however, the enormous risk of putting British and French performers in Cossack garb seems painfully obvious: it is one thing to have an international cast embody, say, Russian urban revolutionaries and intellectuals as in David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), or as members of the cultured 19th-century upper class as in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), but quite another to entrust Western mimes with roles of peasants in a very peculiar socio-cultural context such as the world of Don Cossacks.

Then, there was bad luck, plain and simple: on the first day of shooting—19 August 1991, the beginning of the attempt by Party hard-liners to remove Gorbachev from power—tanks stopped the crews' cars outside of Moscow. Foreign actors who had been cast for important roles did not show up and had to be replaced within a few days. Finally, after a year of intensive shooting in the Don region and a raw cut executed by Bondarchuk himself. Ever since Iosif Stalin bestowed in 1952 upon Sergei Bondarchuk the highest available honorable title in film and theater, People's Artist of the USSR, at the unprecedented age of 32, his reputation among rank-and-file Soviet viewers and patriotic critics was that of a “movie general” (general ot kino), respected both for his artistic achievements and as a leadership figure. Bondarchuk was perhaps the only international star of Soviet cinema, initially after the world-wide success of Sergei Iutkevich's Othello (1955) and of Bondarchuk's own Fate of a Man (Sud'ba cheloveka, 1959), followed by a lead in Roberto Rossellini's It Was Night in Rome (1960), and topped by directing the seven-hour mega-production of War and Peace (Voina i mir, 1967), for which he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1968. Bondarchuk embodied a rare combination of enjoying world-wide fame and displaying unconditional loyalty to the Soviet cause, a blend that made him a darling of the USSR establishment. Khrushchev, Furtseva, and later Brezhnev were even willing to forgive him some caprices, such as retaining his sizeable hard currency honorarium for directing Waterloo. Not surprisingly, the liberal intelligentsia disliked Bondarchuk for selling out to the Communist system, especially in the late 1970s, when he agreed to make two propaganda howlers from John Reed's books. At that point, many believed that Bondarchuk had effectively lost his artistic potential as a director, even though a number of first-rate performances as an actor served as reminders of his outstanding talent.

Paradoxically, the praise that his War and Peace garnered abroad in the 1960s stood in sharp contrast to the intellectual disdain that the film encountered when the four parts were released in the Soviet Union between 1965 and 1967; the number of crass jokes cracked on behalf of Bondarchuk's elephantine Tolstoi adaptation can only be compared to the unprintable street-and-kitchen folklore generated by the “Vasil'ev Brothers'” cult film Chapaev (1934). Still, after Bondarchuk's death in 1994 and a general reversal of attitudes toward the Soviet cultural legacy, influential critics and film historians changed their approach to his films, replacing mockery by praise and pride. Thus, when the lost And Quiet Flows the Don, the expectations were considerable on all sides of the cultural-political spectrum. The shock caused by the screening of the first episode (of seven) on 7 November 2006 on the major national television channel (Channel One) could not have been deeper.

Feliks Kuznetsov, an old-school literary hack, rumbled: “The film is dead, and the actors perform in a deadly manner. It was Sholokhov who had asked Bondarchuk to make this picture, but there was no money in our country at the time, and the foreigners put up the condition that their own actors had to be cast. With them, nothing could work out. There are numerous mistakes in the film. Protesting Cossacks wanted to surround Ostankino with a picket line, and it was hard to dissuade them. It would have been better to buy the film and then not to show it” (4). Kuznetsov's sentiment was typical of many Sholokhov admirers who had just won a major victory after acquiring what is believed to be the manuscript of the novel's first volume (the fact that it was “missing” for many decades was one of the major arguments for the assumption of Sholokhov's plagiarism). But despite the critic's claim that Cossacks had intended to stage a demonstration against Bondarchuk's And Quiet Flows the Don at the Ostankino TV center, statements issued by actual Cossacks were milder. “Without a doubt the film is beautiful, although kind of alien [kakoi-to ne nash] and more resembling an American comic,” said the official representative of the Don Army, Vladimir Voronin (qtd. “‘Tikhii Don'” 8). Hardly any critic missed the chance to point to the sexual orientation of Rupert Everett whom Bondarchuk had cast as the male lead. No matter how much Everett “looked the part,” the fact that a homosexual was chosen to embody Grigorii Melekhov, the symbol of Cossack virility, was seen as an absurdity and a grave insult to Russia's cultural heritage. Arguably, this casting decision alone and the hysteria surrounding it prevented many viewers from ever giving the new And Quiet Flows the Don a fair chance.

Could Bondarchuk have foreseen the harsh reactions to his last film? Would Russian responses have been the same had he been able to complete it as planned and release it in the early 1990s, when Western-style films were normative and their stars revered in post-Soviet Russia, unlike 2006, when patriotic pride had made an unexpected comeback? To what extent might Bondarchuk's own editing have saved the final film, as opposed to the new cut rendered by his son, who eliminated about three hours of footage and reduced the mini-series from ten to seven episodes? There can be no doubt that Sergei Bondarchuk was confident of his ability to create the best possible adaptation of And Quiet Flows the Don and make it attractive both to Russian and Western audiences. After all, his entire career was closely associated with the USSR's leading epic author: it was a Sholokhov story that brought Bondarchuk his first directorial laurels for Fate of a Man—a truly powerful film that still evokes a strong consensus among film critics and historians of all persuasions. Bondarchuk's later adaptation of Sholokhov's World War II fragment, They Fought for the Motherland (Oni srazhalis' za Rodinu, 1975), gained respect for its uncompromising visualization of the horrors of war. To return to Sholokhov once again, in the late 1980s, at a time when the Soviet canon was about to be aborted altogether, may seem quixotic indeed, albeit not any more than Gleb Panfilov's adapting Maksim Gor'kii's Mother (Mat', 1989) around the same time. A futile and, thus, heroic act in the face of the inevitable demise of Soviet civilization—this is how Bondarchuk's film must have been perceived by his contemporaries. However, the ultimate outcome reveals that Bondarchuk's intention was not to insist stubbornly on the righteousness of Soviet historiography but to create a profoundly revisionist interpretation of the novel. This fact was completely missed by reviewers in 2006 when the ideological battles of perestroika had fallen into oblivion. [...]

donOne of the questions asked most often after the Russian television premiere of the third And Quiet Flows the Don was why was there a need for another adaptation of that novel in the first place? Did not Gerasimov's three-part effort, shown countless times on Soviet and post-Soviet television, fit the bill? Had that epic not become an undisputed part of the inner-Soviet cinematic canon—voted to be one of the “ten best Soviet films ever made”? [4] When Bondarchuk was asked that question, he always claimed that it had been Sholokhov himself who suggested that he would like to see another adaptation of And Quiet Flows the Don since he was unhappy with Gerasimov's version (although he never made such a statement officially). [5] There may have been a conspicuous personal, quasi-oedipal conflict at the heart of Bondarchuk's insistence on presenting his own adaptation of And Quiet Flows the Don and trying to outperform his erstwhile teacher and father figure. Gerasimov, just like Bondarchuk, had started his career as an actor and later switched to directing. It was Gerasimov who had given Bondarchuk early stardom by casting him as Valko in The Young Guard (Molodaia gvardiia, 1948). There are indications that Gerasimov—also a darling of the Communist establishment and a Party member at a time when Bondarchuk was not—had hoped to be assigned the mega-production of War and Peace. Later, when the two became competitors as professors at the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK), Gerasimov is reputed to have told Bondarchuk when the possibility of another remake of And Quiet Flows the Don was brought up: “Please wait with this until I am buried.”

Sergei Gerasimov's 330-minute long, three-part epic—the greatest success of his long career—tested the limits of what the Soviet film industry was able to shoulder in the 1950s. Although not viewed as part of the Thaw wave of films, [6] it did provide audiences with a renewed, de-Stalinized concept of history, which showed the class struggles in the Don region as part of an inevitable evolution leading toward Communism, albeit accompanied by countless victims. Gerasimov, a loyal, somewhat pedestrian illustrator of great literature and an “actors' director” rather than an innovative cinematic visionary, filled his revolutionary melodrama with unforgettable characters, paying maximum attention even to secondary parts. As a result, few of the performers were able to free themselves in later years from the image attached to them through And Quiet Flows the Don—most prominently, neither Petr Glebov, the harshly virile Grigorii Melekhov, nor Elina Bystritskaia, the spectacularly beautiful Aksin'ia, were able to find similarly challenging roles in their subsequent careers.

Reviewing both films together, Bondarchuk's casting does not seem as ludicrous as claimed by many Russian critics. Age-wise, Rupert Everett as Grigorii is closer to the novel than Petr Glebov, whose real age was twenty years too old. To be sure, Everett lacks much of the Cossack's physical gravitas and the cruelty—sometimes even nastiness—that the part requires. But he brings to the role an intelligence that Glebov kept hidden; Everett's upper-class pedigree gives his Grigorii an air of manly sensitivity—which, according to the novel, he should possess—and refinement, which clearly goes too far. With the exception of very few critics, the bias against Everett's performance has led to its complete rejection, notwithstanding the fact that in scenes such as Grigorii's confrontation with the officer and landowner Evgenii Listnitskii (played by Andrei Rudenskii), the British actor is absolutely authentic and in full command of the role.

As in They Fought for the Motherland, Bondarchuk emphasizes the earthy aspects of Sholokhov's epic: physically imposing women, whose sweaty skin shines in the glowing southern sun, flirting with barefoot Cossacks on muscular horses. Still, Daniele Nannuzzi's camera brings out the picturesque, more so than Vladimir Monakhov in Fate of a Man, Anatolii Petritskii in War and Peace, or Vadim Iusov in Bondarchuk's later films. The same holds true for Luis Bacalov's Morricone-style score: its tunes are hauntingly beautiful but fail to support the psychological torment that dominates many scenes in And Quiet Flows the Don, unlike Viacheslav Ovchinnikov's music for all of Bondarchuk's films after Fate of a Man. Imagery and music often are too pleasantly romantic, avoiding the dissonances that the subject-matter would necessitate. At times, the Western stars look like transplants from a breed too sensitive to survive the rough Cossack life for more than a few days. And yet, on numerous occasions Bondarchuk managed to film these performers in ways that are truly convincing: F. Murray Abraham fills the part of Pantelei with unrestrained drive and fatherly warmth that was missing in Daniil Il'chenko, who played the part both in 1930 and 1957 . Delphine Forrest's downright supernatural beauty—far from Emma Tsesarskaia's powerful, militant womanhood and Elina Bystritskaia's doll-like cuteness—makes her grip over Grigorii believable to any viewer. Among the most convincing performances is Alena Bondarchuk's Natal'ia and especially Vladimir Gostiukhin's Petr Melekhov, Grigorii's doomed brother. A plum part is Dar'ia, Petr's sensual, unrestrained wife who commits suicide after contracting syphilis—Natal'ia Andreichenko's performance in the new version does not have to fear comparison with Liudmila Khitiaeva's fine accomplishment in 1957. Mikhail Vaskov dares to provide the Bolshevik fanatic Mishka Koshevoi with an unprecedented degree of psychopathology, complemented by an unheroic, off-putting, albeit fleeting portrayal of Shtokman, whom Bondarchuk turns into an evil genius whose Communist demagoguery turns the Cossacks against each other. Bondarchuk's own cameo appearance as General Petr Krasnov gives the White Army commander (who emigrated, became a writer of fiction, and was later executed by the Soviets) a tired, lionesque dignity that he does not have in Sholokhov's novel—obviously, the choice of this role is an implied credo for the director. Overall, many performances are an indication of what this film could have become, had the complicated circumstances of an international co-production in troubled times not prevented the full emergence of artistic homogeneity.

When the retrieved and completed version of Bondarchuk's mini-series was finally screened to Russian audiences, some critics reminded their readers of the fact that there had not just been Gerasimov's canonized and favorably remembered 1957/58 trilogy, but also another And Quiet Flows the Don roughly three decades prior to Gerasimov's—the first attempt to adapt Sholokhov's epic for the screen, undertaken by the directorial couple Ol'ga Preobrazhenskaia and Ivan Pravov. Only a few people were still around who could remember that film, and it was often mentioned as a silent, which is inaccurate. The controversies that the 1930 And Quiet Flows the Don had caused [7] and the praise that Emma Tsesarskaia's performance as Aksin'ia had earned were mostly forgotten, except by some film historians.

But the 1930 And Quiet Flows the Don deserves better. It is of interest to scholars as a transitional film, conceived as a silent but given a soundtrack in order to make it more marketable. [8] On the one hand, the co-existence of intertitles and selective audible utterances make it look dated today. On the other, it had the distinction of visualizing a complex literary text barely two years after its publication. The author himself served as a consultant, a circumstance that gives Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov's And Quiet Flows the Don an air of certified authenticity. The film has many of the strengths of classical Soviet silents, including some breathtakingly poetic nature imagery (for example, the episode of fishing in stormy weather and later of a thunderstorm) and a sophisticated editing rhythm, as well as psychologically expressive close shots that speak louder than dialogues ever could. True to their reputation as experts in the lifestyle of the Russian countryside (their 1927 masterpiece Peasant Women of Riazan [Baby riazanskie] was chastised for its excessive ethnographic details), Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov indulged in painting broad canvases of wedding and other rituals, but also included scenes of drastic verisimilitude that were a rarity in Soviet cinema. [9] Thus, one character is shown vomiting after a wedding drinking binge; Cossacks in a military training camp use leaches as a hangover treatment, etc. Neither Gerasimov nor Bondarchuk later dared to violate the perceived rural idyll by such brutal realism.

The 1930 And Quiet Flows the Don soundtrack consists for the most part of a motley potpourri of classical hits, from Glinka and Beethoven to Rossini and Chaikovskii, covering the awkwardness of wordless scenes but also inadvertently reminding the viewer of the relative technical limitations of the filmmakers' effort. The majority of dialogues are shown without sound, but some of the spotty, far-and-in-between cases of synchronic, asynchronous, or almost-synchronic sound are noteworthy: there is a storm during which Pantelei calls on Grigorii and he replies; there is the cacophony of the local marketplace and the ensuing skirmish in the episode “Market Day” (“V bazarnyi den' ”); there are atmospherically rich bird and insect sounds in an erotic scene at the river, in addition to Cossacks' choral singing, Grigorii's hysterical laughter in the hospital when a member of the royal family is visiting, and, at the very end, a clever dramatic usage of sound in Aksin'ia's siren-like calls to the disenchanted Grigorii (“Griiisha! Griiisha!”). Yet, in an earlier scene, Aksin'ia's asynchronous screams when she is beaten by her husband Stepan are awkward and point to the technological imperfections of early Soviet sound film. Visually, the first And Quiet Flows the Don features some stunning accomplishments; for example, frenzied images shot from a wild horse carriage. [10] Moreover, since at the time of shooting many participants of the historical events described by Sholokhov were still alive, one can assume that the reconstruction of the wedding rituals, military exercises, dress codes, and interiors possess a maximum of authenticity.

Apart from Tsesarskaia's full-blooded portrayal of Aksin'ia, the other undeniable accomplishment of the 1930 adaptation is Andrei Abrikosov's performance as Grigorii Melekhov. When he was chosen for the part, he had the right age, and the character's socio-erotic confusion can believably be attributed to his inexperience. When Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov's And Quiet Flows the Don was released, it deservedly became a box-office hit nationally and internationally, further solidifying Tsesarskaia's popularity and shooting Abrikosov to stardom.

The first And Quiet Flows the Don was made when the novel had not yet been completed, which begs the question of the possible reverse influence of this screen adaptation on the next volumes, written in 1930-40, in which Grigorii's tragic indecision is developed further. The first volume outlined class relations among the Cossacks and their multi-ethnic environment, elements that the film strongly emphasizes. [11] The following volumes are politically and psychologically more differentiated.

A comparison of all three adaptations of And Quiet Flows the Don makes sense only insofar as it has to take into account the conditions under which each one was produced. In 1929/30, Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov found in Sholokhov's novel the type of material that had always interested them: rural life-and-death conflicts oscillating between the private and social spheres and depicted with ethnographic exactitude. In 1956/58, Gerasimov's massive effort—together with Grigorii Chukhrai's The Forty-First (Sorok-pervyi, 1956) and Grigorii Roshal''s The Calvary (Khozhdenie po mukam, 1957-59)—marked Soviet cinema's return to a less linear image of the Civil War, interpreting it not simply as an inevitable event from the Marxist-Leninist historiosophical point of view, but as a national tragedy as well. For the first time in his post-Stalinist phase, Gerasimov juxtaposed the basic human need for love and harmony to historical processes that destroy any chance for its fulfillment. The fact that human beings do not find self-realization through history but are denied such self-realization because of history was a concept unimaginable in Stalinist cinema. In 1989/92, Bondarchuk's incentive, apart from competing with his teacher Gerasimov, was to reconfirm And Quiet Flows the Don as a lasting masterpiece of world literature, a timeless classic of similar status as Tolstoi's War and Peace. [12] Thus, he used the opportunity of an international mega-production to de-Sovietize a novel that was seen for a long time as one of the foundation epics of the Soviet Union. As a result, in Bondarchuk's version, Grigorii Melekhov is noticeably more pensive in a youthful way, more existentially serious than in Preobrazhenskaia/Pravov's or Gerasimov's films—a genuine Hamlet of its time ("gamletianstvo” was one of the accusations launched against the character of Grigorii Melekhov by Stalinist critics; in Bondarchuk's effort, this may have been an argument for choosing a British actor for this role).

Artistically, Sholokhov's epic, in its constant alternation between the intimate and the monumental, presents a challenge to any director—doubtless, Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov, Gerasimov, and Bondarchuk were all superbly suited to face that challenge. Politically, in the ideological context of a Communist state, the notions associated with Cossacks were indubitably negative, which forced the makers of the 1930 and the 1957 screen versions to demonstrate their political viewpoint with abundant clarity, [13] while Bondarchuk in 1991 was finally free to abandon his reliance on state support and show his patriotic leanings stripped of their earlier Communist icing. [14] In their relation to the literary text, each of the three adaptations features undeniable achievements, just as each contains specific losses. Preobrazhenskaia's naturalistic cinematic style best matches that of the early Sholokhov, especially in his Don Stories , much of which is still present in the fabric of And Quiet Flows the Don, while Bondarchuk's poeticization of nature comes closest to the author's quasi-mysticism.

A vital role in Bondarchuk's And Quiet Flows the Don is played by inspired, picturesque landscapes—at times, Daniele Nannuzzi's flying camera seems to caress the vast nature of the Don region. Some of the resulting images were justifiably mocked for their postcard beauty, but the majority of them breathe vibrant life, transcending the usual function of landscape shots to provide an atmospheric background for private and historical clashes. In Bondarchuk's film, nature is the virtual cradle from which the protagonists emerge and to which they return, often with surprising, nature-like passivity. In this regard, it seems plausible that Bondarchuk was inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (Novecento, 1976), another grandiose epic in which the natural health and warmth of a rural community is challenged by intrusive historical forces—Bertolucci's controversial five-hour film, although never officially released in the USSR, made a deep impression on the Moscow film community.

In the context of Bondarchuk's own biography, And Quiet Flows the Don could have been the beginning of a new career phase after the embarrassing staleness of Red Bells (Krasnye kolokola, 1982) and the sad confusion of Boris Godunov. And Quiet Flows the Don demonstrates a sure-footed direction with elements of brilliance. Although the initial reaction to Bondarchuk's effort, more than a decade after his passing, was overwhelmingly negative, it seems fair to say that the jury is still out on the actual accomplishments of the third And Quiet Flows the Don. [15]

Images from www.1tv.ru

Peter Rollberg
George Washington University

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Notes

1] Sholokhov's personality was both grotesquely public as part of the Soviet cultural and political establishment and mysteriously hidden in his native stanitsa Veshenskaia. In post-Soviet years, Sholokhov's legacy remains controversial in sometimes unexpected ways. Thus, neo-nationalist publications that denounce the entire Soviet period as a betrayal of Cossack values emphasize the fact that the creator of the greatest Cossack epic was himself not a Cossack. Be this as it may, he certainly was no intellectual in the traditional meaning of the term, and it is easy to see why the rumors about plagiarism fell on receptive ears: there seems to be no aesthetic self-awareness in this author, no essayistic explorations of his own place in literature; instead, Sholokhov delivered scary speeches at Party conferences, formulated in a vulgar Communist jargon, far from the verbal richness characteristic of his early Civil War stories and And Quiet Flows the Don.

2] Sergei Gerasimov, among others, was interested in the project. “Way back in the thirties I had dreamed of making a screen adaptation of Mikhail Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don. That dream did not come true, but the idea, once conceived, remained alive” (Wakeman 390).

3] In the 1950s and 1960s, several of Sholokhov's works were adapted for the screen, including a three-part version of Virgin Soil Upturned (Podniataia tselina ), written 1932-60, directed by veteran Aleksandr Ivanov in 1960-62 and not without artistic merits. On the history of Sholokhov adaptations, including the 1930 and 1957 versions of And Quiet Flows the Don , see Vlasov and Mlodik.

3a]See Anna Lawton, Kinoglasnost, CUP 1992, p. 54.

4] The production history of Gerasimov's film has recently been the subject of a sensationalist book by a former camera assistant on the film who later became a writer (see Rodionov). The author meanders between admiration for Sholokhov, Gerasimov and his crew, and dubious political innuendos against their communist views.

5] Interestingly, Western critics echoed this sentiment. Thus, Thomson called Gerasimov's And Quiet Flows the Don “flatulent melodrama dressed up as if it were Tolstoy and filmed without taste, talent, or a sense of the moment” (332).

6] Woll described it as “a massive if forgettable screen epic” (61).

7] Censors insisted that Grigorii in the film should turn into a revolutionary at the end (thus anticipating what they thought would be the outcome of Sholokhov's yet unfinished novel). To their credit, Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov refused to give in to these demands, as did Sholokhov in vols. 2-4, maintaining the character's tragic ambiguity (Istoriia sovetskogo kino 446-7).

8] The soundtrack was produced in 1932 in Paris (see Margolit 46-7).

9] The film was immensely successful with audiences but loathed by dogmatic critics such as Stavskii, who tore it apart. In the same issue, Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov defended themselves and their film. They had been excluded from the Association of Revolutionary Film Artists (ARRK) for adapting And Quiet Flows the Don, regarded as a reactionary book by proletarian ideologues at the time (see Deriabin 108).

10] The cameramen were Dmitrii Fel'dman (1902-1963) and Boris Epshtein; the former became a prominent cinematographer.

11] In 1929, when Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov conceived their film, And Quiet Flows the Don 's status as a literary work was far from certain—it was a controversial novel in the making, suspected of sympathy for the kulaks and other ideological heresies.

12] Sholokhov had intended the comparison with War and Peace ; one of the pre-publications was even called “A Cossack ‘War and Peace'.”

13] Thus, when Grigorii gives his rival, young Evgenii Listnitskii, a beating for gaining Aksin'ia's favors, Preobrazhenskaia and Pravov put words in the Cossack's mouth that sound like class struggle slogans: “For our suffering, for our damned life!” (“Za muchenie nashe, za zhizn' nashu prokliatuiu!”), turning private revenge into a symbolic, class-conscious act. In the film, Grigorii's ultimate leaving and Aksin'ia's tempting cries acquire a symbolic dimension, too: he moves away from his preoccupation with private matters into a future holding social promises and responsibilities. Thirty years later, Sergei Gerasimov put strong emphasis on the character of Shtokman, a Communist activist who stirs up the Cossacks and, in the director's treatment, dies a martyr's death. In Preobrazhenskaia/Pravov's film, this key character is absent; in Bondarchuk's, he is shown in an unabashedly negative light.

14] In comparison to his predecessors, among Bondarchuk's specific motives for once again adapting And Quiet Flows the Don may have been the intention to make a case to an international audience that its plot and values could stand the test of time, implicitly claiming that the epic would outlast Soviet society, just as War and Peace had outlasted tsarist Russia.

15] Considering how rapidly viewing habits are changing in Russia, it may very well be that younger generations will accept Bondarchuk's “Cossacks for export” more readily than those whose gold standard is nostalgically defined by Gerasimov and his stars Glebov and Bystritskaia.

 


Works

Deriabin, Aleksandr, ed. Letopis' rossiiskogo kino 1930-1945. Moskva: Materik, 2006.

Istoriia sovetskogo kino. Vol. 1. Moskva: Iskusstvo, 1969.

Kuznetsov, Feliks. “Chlen-korrespondent RAN Feliks Kuznetsov: ‘Tikhii Don' – zhivaia kniga i mertvyi fil'm'.” Izvestiia (17 November 2006): 4.

Margolit, Evgenii. In Geschichte des sowjetischen und russischen Films. Ed. Christine. Engel. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1999. 46-47.

Rodionov, Viacheslav. Gromkoe delo Tikhogo Dona. Moskva: Algoritm, 2007.

Sholokhov, Mikhail. “A Cossack ‘War and Peace'.” Molot (28 December 1928):

Stavskii, Vladimir. Literaturnaia gazeta (15 June 1931):.

Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

“‘Tikhii Don', po mneniiu mnogikh kazakov, napominaet amerikanskii komiks.” Novoe vremia 110 (11 November 2006): 8.

Vlasov, Aleksandr and Arkadii Mlodik. Geroi Sholokhova na ekrane. Moskva: Iskusstvo, 1963.

Wakeman, John. World Film Directors. Vol. I: 1890-1945. NY: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.

Woll, Josephine. Real Images: Soviet Cinema and the Thaw London and NY: I.B. Tauris, 2000.

 


And Quiet Flows the Don, Russia and Italy, 2006
Color, 7 episodes, 364 minutes
Director: Sergei Bondarchuk
Television director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Screenplay: Sergei Bondarchuk, Nicola Badalucco, Robert Balchus
Cinematography: Daniele Nannuzzi
Music: Luis Enríquez-Bacalov
Cast: Rupert Everett, Delphine Forest, F. Murray Abraham, Ben Gazzara, Lorenzo Amato, Natal'ia Andreichenko, Mikhail Baskov, Aleksandr Bespalis, Sergei Bondarchuk, Alena Bondarchuk, Vladimir Gostiukhin, Aleksandr Iarkov, Nikolai Karachentsov
Producer: Enzo Rispoli
Production: Madison Motion Pictures, Mosfil'm, and Pro-Cinema Production (commissioned by Channel One)


This review has been modified on 25 November 2010.

Sergei (and Fedor) Bondarchuk's And Quiet Flows the Don (Tikhii Don , 2006)

reviewed by Peter Rollberg © 2008

Updated: 25 Nov 10