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Alexander Nevsky Movie Review

eisenstein film sergei russia

1938 – Sergei Eisenstein, D. Vasilyev –

Following October in 1927, Sergei Eisenstein experienced a frustrating ten-year hiatus during which he completed no films. He was out of favor with Stalin and for a short time he worked at Paramount in Hollywood at the all-too-common trade of writing screenplays that went unproduced. His association with novelist Upton Sinclair, Sinclair's wife, and their Mexican Film Trust almost led to a completed film (Que Viva Mexico) on the revolutionary spirit in Mexico until the epic scale Eisenstein sought overwhelmed the small budget Sinclair was willing to support. (Some historians even rank this uncompleted film with the great lost masterpieces Greed by von Stroheim and The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles. The negative was eventually sold and recut into two films released as Thunder over Mexico and Death Day.)

Back in Moscow, Eisenstein had his next project, Bezhin Meadow, halted during production due to political opposition. It now exists only in fragments, and Eisenstein was forced to grovel a bit with a published apology for the film. Eisenstein was teaching at the State Film Academy in 1938 when he was finally able to complete Alexander Nevsky, an epic set in 1242 about Prince Nevsky's and Russia's defeat of the Teutonic invasion.

The subject matter could not have pleased Stalin more: as Russia feared the Nazi threat in 1938, Eisenstein looked to history for a parallel story about a Russian victory over Germany. It was Eisenstein's first sound film, and it uses the music of Sergei Prokofiev to establish a vivid mood. To complete the analogy to contemporary events, the menacing Germans in the film are garbed with flowing capes that feature small crosses on the left shoulder—just an extra stroke or two would complete the swastika. As befits the nature of films made for political propaganda, the popularity and acceptability of this film changed as Russia's views of Germany changed. In 1938, the year of the film's release, Nevsky was safe and popular as a warning against German militarism; when the Russo-German nonaggression pact was signed in 1939, it was pulled from release only to be put back in exhibition in 1941 when Germany invaded Russia.

On the whole, Alexander Nevsky is more static than Eisenstein's masterpieces of the silent era. Many scenes are strikingly composed, but the movement of the performers, of the camera, and with the cutting seems less invigorating than in his earlier work. At intervals an arresting touch will give the film some life—as when a German warlord stands before a precipice beyond which rages a bonfire and drops infant after infant into the abyss. The grand set piece is the climactic battle on ice at Lake Ilmen, which is truly spectacular. (It was filmed during the summer outside Moscow using artificial snow and ice.)

Cast: Nikolai Cherkasov (Prince Nevsky), N. Okhlopkov (Vasily Buslai), A. Abrikosov (Gavrilo Olevsich), D. Orlov (Tgnat), V. Novikov (Pavsha), N. Arsky (Domash), V. Ivashova (Olga), A. Danilova (Vasilisa), V. Yershov (Teutonic knight), S. Blinnikov (Tverdilo), I. Lagutin (Anavii), L. Fenin (bishop) Screenwriter: P. Pavlenko, Sergei Eisenstein Cinematographer: Eduard Tisse Composer: Sergei Prokofiev Producer: Sergei Eisenstein for Mosfilm Running Time: 112 minutes Format: VHS Awards: National Board of Review Awards, 1939: Five Best Foreign Films of the Year.

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