THE PRAGUE SPRING we know from '68, but other forms of ferment were under way during the Communist '60s, as demonstrated by this fine weekend series of 10 rare Russian titles. It wasn't all five-year plans and peasants singing paeans to tractors during a decade when Truffaut, Godard, and the nouvelle vague somehow penetrated the Iron Curtain and benefited Soviet cinema.
REVOLUTION IN THE REVOLUTION: SOVIET CINEMA IN THE 1960s
runs January 6-March 11 at Grand Illusion
Judging from the three movies previewed, the influence of 1961's Jules and Jim cannot be understated. Love triangles abound in Nine Days of One Year and Brief Encounters. Such small human emotional tangles stand in the foreground against larger questions of nuclear science and urban planning. Filmmakers strain to place simple, recognizable stories of longing, separation, and frustrated love against patriotic national backdrops.
So it is with Goodbye, Boys, an affecting coming-of-age flick set in pre-World War II Odessa. Knowing that they will be parted forever by war gives poignancy to the seaside antics of a group of friends and lovers. The appearance of a louche, improbable slack-key Hawaiian guitar "king" lends a fittingly incongruous note. There on the strand of the Black Sea, his presence signals how waves of youthful idealism will collide with the shore of mysterious adulthood.
Technical limitations of the era coexist with some remarkable black-and-white photography. Set mostly in a secret nuclear research town, Nine Days contrasts huge, ominous proton-smashing machinery with the dedicated, lovelorn scientists it can poison or sanctify. The jittery camera of Brief Encounters echoes the fragile emotional states of two women besotted with the same beatnik geologist. Then, in one stunning, out-of-the-blue flashback, it racks focus and changes exposure in a single shot to communicate the passage of time and the loss of innocence.
Whether it's Khrushchev or Cahiers du Cin魡 that's to thank, the '60s were a period of almost giddy experimentation in Russian film. (Call it a thaw if you must.) The most progressive pictures of the era were banned by authorities, particularly after the '68 clampdown, but now that the Cold War is history, their barely suppressed vitality again feels utterly present.