Zvenigora /Звeнигopа/ Alexander Dovzhenko, 1928, 109 min, drama, VO, silent
A grandfather who trades in salt looks after his two grandsons, the idealistic nationalist dreamer Pavlo and the industrious Bolshevik worker Timoshka. In a surreal, modernist story that leaps back and forth over a thousand years of history, the grandsons battle each other in a civil war.
Zvenigora is less a film than a tone poem, set forth by master Russian cinematic poet Alexander Dovzhenko. Moving outside the studio system for the first time (it was his fourth film), Dovzhenko uses lyrical location shots of rural Ukraine and its farmers to excellent advantage. The very complex storyline (too much so to dwell on at great length here) combines elements of fact and folklore in relating the "history" of the Ukraine, using the search for a fabled treasure as the glue that holds the tale together. This is not an accessible "classroom classic" like Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. Be prepared to think and be challenged, and not to sit back comfortably, while experiencing Zvenigora. (H. Erickson)