The First Teacher | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The First Teacher

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Following the deep freeze of the Stalin era, the Soviet Union enjoyed a creative thaw that began in the late 1950s, around the time of the Sputnik launch, and lasted until the invasion of Prague in 1968. The relaxation of cultural policies, combined with a pride in national achievements and greater influence from the West, encouraged a new generation of filmmakers to reexamine the past and scrutinize the present, resulting in a rich trove of films distinguished by their frankness, variety, and stylistic innovation. This week Facets Multimedia Center begins a 15-film retrospective of the Soviet new wave, rediscovering some directors who are neglected even in Russia (Marlen Khutsiev, Larisa Shepitko) and early films by such international favorites as Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Paradjanov, and Andrei Konchalovsky. For his 1965 directing debut, The First Teacher, Konchalovsky traveled to a Kirghiz village in the steppes of central Asia to shoot a loose adaptation of Chingiz Aitmatov's story about an idealistic young man dispatched by the Communist Party to educate the children of the village in the early 1920s. The social realists of the 40s and 50s would no doubt have glorified the teacher's mission, but in this film his blind faith in Leninism clashes with the villagers' feudal values, a struggle further complicated by his ambivalence toward a girl with a crush on him whose mother sells her to a rich, rugged nomad. Evoking a pastoral poetry and local colors reminiscent of Alexander Dovzhenko, Konchalovsky invests this simple tale with compassion for the villagers' harsh life and a grudging admiration for the proud teacher. 102 min. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, August 17, 9:00, and Tuesday, August 21, 8:45, 773-281-4114.

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