Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!
Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!
Like Fellini’s Amarcord, whose title it recalls, I Remember You is a semi-autobiographical meditation on the past. Kim, a veterinarian, leaves Samarkand at the request of his seriously ill mother and heads on a voyage across Russia in search of the grave of his father who died during the war. Reflecting Ali Khamraev’s own personal history – his Ukrainian mother and Tajik father, his father’s death during World War II, his own subsequent voyage with his brother to find the grave – this poetic journey into the subconscious memory is rendered in images of extraordinary intensity and beauty and one of Khamraev’s true masterpieces.
Ali Khamraev’s sleek, stylish film, a modernist political melodrama that earned prizes abroad but official disapproval at home, interconnects the stories of three women struggling with traditional social constraints in post-World War II Uzbekistan. One is an illiterate but very determined young woman committed to building a house even though local custom does not permit it without the approval of her absent husband. Another is a school teacher seeking to bring progressive ideas to a village long subjugated by strict old-fashioned practices. The last is an elderly woman who was kidnapped by a poor peasant in her youth and forced into marriage. A dreamy and impressionistic remembrance set in a hardscrabble world, Khamraev’s Triptych is an underseen achievement in international art house cinema.
When a Red Army detachment captures Sultan Nazar, the leader of a Basmachi contingent opposing Soviet forces, a decision is made to urgently escort the prisoner to the neighboring Bukhara province. The difficult mission is entrusted to Mirzo, an experienced mountain trapper and conscientious revolutionary whose expertise is essential to traversing the precarious paths and steep mountain ridges along the way. Mirzo, his brother Kova, the Sultan, his daughter Zaranghis, and his slave Saifulla set off on this journey, pursued doggedly along the way by Fattobek, the ruthless new head of the Basmachis, a cadre of loyal fighters, and his prophetic wife, Aibash. Recalling the Western psychodramas of Anthony Mann, The Bodyguard is yet another of Ali Khamraev’s harshly beautiful and action-packed Easterns.
The Seventh Bullet is set after the Russian Civil War as Soviet power established itself in Central Asia and as opposing Basmachi rebels cross the border bringing death and destruction to peaceful villages. Local militia leader Maksumov struggles in his campaign against Basmachi warlord Khairulla who has captured most of his men and won them to his side. With little other option, Maksumov gives himself up in hopes of being reunited with his men and winning them back to the Revolution. Ali Khamraev’s take on the Red Western was an international hit, featuring rollicking action, reassuring heroism, and an unstoppable performance by its star, Suymenkul Chokmorov.
In an isolated and conservatively traditional Muslim village in Uzbekistan, a married woman, Malika, falls in love with a soft-spoken foreigner, Kayum, who has brought liberal Soviet attitudes and principles to the community, sometimes setting himself against the subordination of the town’s women by their male counterparts. Tensions rise as Kayum and Malika openly grow closer, raising the ire of Malika’s father and her husband as well as among those interested in maintaining the village’s old ways. A breakthrough film for Ali Khamraev, White, White Storks is a beautifully rendered docudrama that combines the textured honesty of Italian Neorealism, the family dynamics and tragedies of Yasujiro Ozu, and the poetry of Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying.