The Theme | Chicago Reader

The Theme

Soviet director Gleb Panfilov's angry and courageous 1979 film, Golden Bear winner (over Platoon) at the 1987 Berlin film festival, only managed to surface after glasnost. Its novellalike plot follows a trip to the country taken by a celebrated middle-aged playwright (Mikhail Ulyanov) who has recently come to feel contempt for the compromises and complacencies of his own career. He develops an interest in an attractive young tour guide (beautifully played by Panfilov's wife, Inna Churikova), whose low opinion of his work helps to focus his own self-hatred. But this masochistic attraction is frustrated when he discovers that her heart belongs to a young unpublished Jewish poet who, unlike him, has risked his career for his work and who, reduced by the authorities to a job as a grave digger, is planning to emigrate. Panfilov's narrative style (the hero's acerbic offscreen narration effectively punctuating the action) and visual distinction (a memorable use of snowy landscapes creating a striking black-and-white effect to play off against the color) keep this powerfully acted drama watchable even when little is happening. With Stanislav Lyubshin and Yevegeny Vesnik.

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