Russian Souvenir

[Русский сувeнир]

film still

USSR, Mosfilm, 1960, 101 min., Color
Director: Grigorii Aleksandrov
Screenplay: G. Aleksandrov
Camera: G. Aizenberg
Music: K. Molchanov
With: Liubov Orlova, Andrei Popov, Vavel Kadochnikov, Ernst Garin, Aleksandr Barushnoi, and Zlina Bystritskaia

After an emergency landing, several Western "intourists" – a British Bible scholar, an American millionaire and his secretary, an Italian countess and her personal doctor – find themselves in the middle of Siberia, instead of Moscow. After the initial shock, the visitors decide to make the best of this unexpected opportunity to see the Soviet "backwoods." As one of them puts it, "They usually show us what works; now we are going to see what hasn't worked." Indeed, most of the comic moments in the film play on this expectation, which turns, invariably, futile. In a characteristic episode, the Westerners hide from the rain in an imposing building, which turns out to be – a prison. Hearing a mournful American song, they anxiously await to witness the mistreatment of foreign prisoners at the hands of Soviet guards. However, they soon discover that the prison is, in fact, a popular vacation spot, where now a group of young people are entertaining themselves by singing Western songs. Through the experiences that mark their way from Siberia to Moscow, the foreign guests undergo a conversion of sorts, as the ugly face of communism proves to be but a fiction. Two love intrigues between natives and visitors end with marriages, thus symbolically sealing the rapprochement between politically opposed worlds.

Appearing eleven years after Aleksandrov's Stalinist cold-war statement, Meeting on the Elbe, Russian Souvenir clearly evidences the changed political climate of the Thaw period. The stark black-and-white depiction of antagonistic forces in Meeting, gives way to a colorful charade in which cold-war antagonisms are all but dissolved. In Russian Souvenir, the world is divided not so much by political issues, as by prejudice and obscurantism. Yet, Aleksandrov's film is not more aesthetically successful, for being more politically optimistic.

Grigorii Aleksandrov

director photo

Grigorii Aleksandrov (1903-1983) started out as an acrobat, entertaining Russian troops on the Western Front. Aleksandrov then went to work as an actor and stage manager at Prolekult Theater in Moscow, where he befriended the troupe's director, Sergei Eisenstein. When Eisenstein decided to give the movies a try, Alexandrov went along as screenwriter and general assistant. The two men collaborated on such silent masterpieces as Strike (1925) and Oktiabr (1925). In 1931, Aleksandrov accompanied Eisenstein to Mexico to work on the ill-fated, never-completed Qui Viva Mexico: the resultant footage didn't see light of day until Alexandrov prepared an edited version – 48 years later. Aleksandrov's first solo directorial effort was the non-narrative French short subject Romance Sentimentale (1930); two years later, he completed his first feature, Internationale. His subsequent Russian films were non-dogmatic musicals and comedies, the best of which included Jazz Comedy (1934), Circus (1936) and Volga Volga (1938). He succeeded Eisenstein as the artistic director of Mosfilm in 1944, subsequently winning multiple awards for his Mosfilm productions Spring (1947), Meeting on the Elbe (1949) and Glinka (1952). Grigorii Aleksandrov was married to popular Soviet film star Liubov Orlova.

(director's bio by Hal Erickson,

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