Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: My Friend Ivan Lapshin

This is a Soviet film from 1985. I saw it last night for the third time, and still it remains a bit enigmatic. The film tells about a a Soviet policeman somewhere in the rural area in the mid-thirties, just before Stalin's reign of terror really hit the Soviet people. There are only few mentions of any politics in the film, but the viewer still knows what's going to happen to many of the people seen in the film. The film is narrated through fragments, seen mainly by a 9-year old boy who tells the stories in the present time, being already an old man. This is a slow and at times painstakingly fragmentary movie, in which lots of dialogue don't make much sense. People talk over each other and usually about anything else than what the real issue at the given time is.

There's a long scene in which Ivan Lapshin, the policeman of the title, leads a posse to catch the band of criminals in a seedy building somewhere outside the city. It's a great scene, with long takes with hand-held cameras, done in a hectic rhythm in a dirty landscape. There are sudden outburts of stupid violence, but one act of violence outcomes them all. One of the policemen (well, not actually a policeman, but a friend of Ivan Lapshin, who sometimes helps the police out) is stabbed by the gang-leader in an absurd scene, where there's at first not at all clear what's happening. Then Ivan Lapshin hunts the gang-leader down and shoots him in cold blood. It's a great scene and makes one think that My Friend Ivan Lapshin is a rare Soviet nouveau noir film. The whole scene - the whole film - is permeated with a feeling that everyone gets killed in the end.

One of the commentators in IMDb seems to agree with me: "My Friend Ivan Lapshin is not an easy film to watch. It's dark atmosphere of early Stalin years, one might call it soviet film noir. But in contrast to classical American noirs, Lapshin adds much more realistic tones; shot in black and white with hand cameras it sometimes looks like half-documentary, making it closer to french Nouvelle Vogue." This goes well with the fact that there was a big boom of new noir films in the mid-eighties throughout the world (from Body Heat to Almodovar's films) - I just hadn't happened to think of any Soviet film as a nouveau noir. The meaning of the film is hard to discern from the fragments, but this was banned in the Soviet Union for some years and director German had a hard time to find work.

Aleksei German's few films are, for example, the war film "Check-Up on the Roads" (1971) and the film about Stalin's death and its aftermath, Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998), which, much to my dismay, I haven't seen. I don't know if any of these have been released in English language, but if you can find them, be sure to take a look. Here's a good blog post about the film.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

No comments: