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The Award has been handed over to Marlen Khutsiev at the closing ceremony of the St. Petersburg KinoForum on July 15, 2011.

FIPRESCI's Prize for an Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema
to Russian Director Marlen Khutsiev

Accurate Portraits of Six Successive Russian Generations
The Country's History is Lined With His Films
By Alexei Gusev

Marlen Khutsiev.Marlen Khutsiev, the oldest of the active Russian film directors, has now passed his 85th birthday. He was born in Tbilisi twelve weeks before the premiere of Battleship Potemkin. But his respectable age is not the reason he is considered the personified history of Russian cinema. Over a 55-year career, he has only made six films (excluding work for television and documentaries), and each of them became a divider which film historians later used to mark the end of one stage and the beginning of a new one. But cinema is not the only point: the country's history itself is lined with films by Khutsiev, with a supernatural sense of time probably the most outstanding gift of this filmmaker.

Two Fedors.
space.
"Two Fedors" (1958, with Vasili Shukshin)
space.
I Am Twenty.
space.
"I Am Twenty" (1964)
space.
Epilogue.
space.
"Epilogue" (1983)

Khutsiev's six films are accurate, hysteria-free portraits of six successive generations, painted in their true colours. His debut Spring on Zarechnaya Street (Vesna na Zarechnoi ulitse, 1955) marked the beginning of the Thaw period in Soviet cinema after Stalin's death. In the key scene of the film the young hero throws open the window, letting the spring wind burst into the tiny room, sweeping papers from the table and thus proclaiming the triumph of feelings over dogmas. In The Two Fedors (Dva Fedora, 1958), the euphoria, sensuality and romanticism were exchanged for cool observation: as the "Soviet New Wave" set in (Khutsiev was only overtaken by Tengiz Abuladze creating his Children of Others [Skhvisi shvilebi, 1959] several months later), "the kids of the 20th Congress" grew up fast and began to place value upon distance over pathos. Four years later, it was the censors' interference with The Ilych Gate (Zastava Ilicha, 1962) that marked the beginning of the decline of the short-lived freedom: the film was cut by a third and given an insipid title: I Am Twenty (Mne dvadtsat' let). The turning-point of the epoch can be sensed throughout the movie: the light, bright and almost careless beginning slows down in the middle, with the picture darkening (turning grey, to be precise) in front of our eyes and the main hero's illusions turning into laborious self-consciousness with doubtful prospects and no point of support in outer reality. July Rain (Iul'skii dozhd, 1966) marked the beginning of the stagnation period: illusions degenerated into a meaningless ritual, rascality became an everyday phenomenon, hopes turned into phantoms, and life became a routine, with just a few moments like a summer rain or a meeting of vets offering a reminder that things could be another way some days in the past.

Seventeen years on, Khutsiev showed that the trajectory which commenced with July Rain had been covered: the main hero of Epilogue (Posleslovie, 1983) is an intelligent and generous man of solid character — a representative of the stagnation period. The enthusiasm of his father-in-law seeking joy and sense in every moment of life makes him feel aloof and awkward, rather than disappointed with his broken dreams. The gradual and almost invisible mortification of soul touched on in the middle of Ilych Gate was complete by Epilogue — one and a half years before the USSR began to dissolve. Therefore his sixth film Infinity (Infinitas, 1992) is set in a timeless zone: the time has ended and the main hero, like Bergman's Professor Borg from Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället, 1957) lives his life surrounded by clocks with no arrows, trying to find himself by returning to his past — to find his everything, the generations and countries he used to know. To no effect: in the final scenes, the gap between the ageing hero and his young alter-ego becomes an abyss, and the river of time between them, once a barely visible creek, flows into the endless sea…

Several samples of the film Nevechernyaya about Tolstoi and Chekhov, on which Khutsiev has been working over the last eight years, show that the film is going to raise (and surely resolve) the issue of synergies between the country, culture and time — before all three die. The story about the wind that once burst into a small room is going to culminate here in a Visconti-style myth of the utmost breath before departing to non-existence, which is inevitable.

Alexei Gusev
© FIPRESCI 2011
Edited by Carmen Gray

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