A Film Screening (with an introduction by Ana Berdinskikh)
By Claire Kalikman
On Wednesday, November 29th, the 1929 Russian film “Fragment of an Empire” was screened at the Whitney Humanities Center as the sixth installment in a year-long film series in recognition of the centennial of the Russian Revolution. The film series, Red Century: The Russian Revolution on Film, is hosted by the MacMillan Center and Russian Studies Program, as well as supported by several other organizations. The reel came from the archives of the Museum of Modern Art. Filip Sestan ‘20 remarked that though he had heard of the film before the event, he was surprised by how many people attended given the obscurity of the film.
The film is about a young military officer with amnesia who returns to St. Petersburg following the Russian Civil War, to find that his hometown has been modernized and transformed. It charts the evolution of the war and the main character Filimonov’s life, illuminating the new social order of Russia.
The movie was directed by Fridrikh Ermler, and his frequent collaborator Fyodor Nikitin was the star. Though they worked together on four movies, the two men had opposing approaches to film and were frequent adversaries. The director was trained in the Experimental Cinema Workshop (KEM), and was taught to avoid feelings and transformations in his work. In contrast, Nikitin was a method actor, and for this film visited a psychiatric institution in preparation for his role.
The began withan introduction by Ana Berdinskikh, a Slavic Languages and Literatures and Film and Media Studies student at Yale. She explained the historical context of the film and the significance of the work. She also gave a brief summary of the film, given that the intertitles have been lost to time, making the film harder to understand.
The silent film was accompanied by pianist Donald Sosin. His music greatly added to the emotional drama of the film. At the end of the evening, the audience discovered t that, due to a mix-up, he had viewed a different version of the film when composing music for the event, so a good portion of the music he ended up playing was improvised.
The actor’s emotion was palpable, even in a silent film. Much of the audience was moved to tears by the end of the film. Viewer Sarah Li ‘17 said “the only thing sadder than a Russian novel is a Russian movie.”
Claire Kalikman is a first year in Morse College. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.