MAY 24, 27, 30 + JUN 3-4, 6, 8-11, 13
"A LIVING LEGEND ... To many Russian critics, cinephiles, and viewers Gherman is their national cinema’s foremost figure after Tarkovsky. Others insist that, in fact, he is more important and more original." ANTON DOLIN, FILM COMMENT
A bold, uncompromising filmmaker of uncommon gifts, Alexei Gherman is one of Russian cinema's reigning masters. Gherman — whose name is often transliterated as German, but also as Guerman and Gherman, to emphasize its hard “g” pronunciation — first came to wide international attention in the 1980s, as one of the major cinematic discoveries of glasnost. In the 1970s, he had been one of most distinctive and decidedly nonconformist directors working at Leningrad's famed Lenfilm Studios, where, away from Moscow's prying eyes, Soviet filmmakers had traditionally enjoyed more freedom than their colleagues elsewhere. But if Gherman stands as something of a symbol for the independent “Lenfilm spirit,” he is also a significant example of the heavy price often paid by iconoclastic artists in the pre-glasnost Soviet Union: Gherman's career was repeatedly interrupted by official disapproval, censorship, and the shelving of his all-too-few films.
This touring exhibition, which originated at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York in March, offers the first complete North American retrospective of Gherman's directorial work. Made up of the five features films Gherman has completed to date, it includes new 35mm prints of the rarely-seen The Seventh Companion (1967) and the long-banned masterpiece Trial on the Road (1971), and also includes Kazakh director Ardak Amirkulov's magnificent epic The Fall of Otrar (1990), a film produced and co-written by Gherman (and released in North America under Martin Scorsese's imprimatur).
Acknowledgements: This retrospective of the films of Alexei Gherman was organized by Seagull Films and the Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York) with the assistance of Lenfilm Studios (St. Petersburg) and generous support provided by George Gund III.
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"Among the most important retrospectives in years, 'The Films of Alexei Gherman' is also a bracing, deeply satisfying cinematic experience." TONY PIPOLO, ARTFORUM
“In this age of Netflix, streaming video and burn-on-demand DVDs, it can be all too tempting — comforting, even — to think that there is no more cinematic terra incognita left to be discovered, that all of the treasures of world moviemaking are simply lying in wait for us to dial up in our living rooms. And yet there is the case of Alexei Gherman, who is indisputably one of the greatest filmmakers alive in the world today, but whose work has, until now, been nearly impossible to see, little distributed outside of his native Russia (with the exception of the French co-production Khrustalyov, My Car!) and wholly unavailable on any home video format in the English-speaking world.
To be fair, Gherman’s films — five features to date, all shot in stunning black-and-white and staged in complex, obsessively detailed tracking shots that rank with the best of Scorsese and De Palma — have long been championed by a small but enthusiastic cult of admirers and programmers [and made occasional appearances at exhibitions of Soviet and Russian cinema presented at Pacific Cinémathèque and other film institutes]. But today, even the savvy art-film goer is unlikely to have heard of Gherman, let alone seen any of his work —a dilemma for which this retrospective represents one small corrective.
Gherman was born in 1938 in Leningrad into something like Soviet cultural royalty, the son of author, playwright, reporter and screenwriter Yuri Gherman, a man who dined with Stalin and Gorky and whose writing would directly or indirectly inform many of his son’s films. The younger Gherman also studied both theatre and film, the latter under the great Grigori Kozintsev (known for his masterful film versions of Hamlet and King Lear) and began as an apprentice in the then-prosperous Soviet studio system. But almost from the start, Gherman proved to be a troublesome cog in that well-oiled machine, clashing with co-director Grigori Aronov over authorship of The Seventh Companion and running so afoul of the authorities on his next picture, the masterpiece Trial on the Road, that the film was suppressed for the next 15 years.
Though Gherman — together with his wife and regular screenwriting partner Svetlana Karmalita — has continued to work in the decades since, his projects have been subject to variously long production delays, owing to everything from the collapse of funding to (in the case of Khrustalyov) the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Well, that and Gherman’s refusal to cast an American movie star as Stalin.) Yet Gherman has, rather like one of his own wizened, war-weary protagonists, soldiered forth, creating one of the most profoundly human and richly cinematic bodies of work in modern movies. He is currently said to be nearing completion of his decades-in-the-making sixth feature, an adaptation of the brothers Arkady and Boris Sturgatsky’s sci-fi novel Hard to Be a God. [Both Tarkovsky's Stalker and Sukorov's Days of the Eclipse were based on works by the Strugatskys.]
FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER
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