Cast includes: Leonid Bichevin (Mortify), Anatoliy Belyy (Metro), Kristii Schneider (The Audition), Semyon Shkalikov (Kuresky osoboy vashnosti)
Writer/Director: Aleksandr Mitta (Lost in Siberia)
Genre: Drama | History | Fantasy (119 minutes) Russian with subtitles
1887, the Russian town of Vitebsk is on fire… “ablaze with arson to the Jewish quarter.” At this moment, Marc Chagall comes into the world, looking absolutely stillborn but finally gasping for air. “The world was so magically bright, horrifying and beautiful that I started to breathe… and that intolerable beauty burns within me.” Twenty years later, Marc is in Paris, “the art capital of the world.” Artists learn from each other, and Marc is obsessed with all the innovation. When he gets his first show, he finally makes enough money to go back and marry his fiancé, whom he hasn’t seen in 4 years. When we first meet Bella, Naum is trying to woo her with poetry, but she’s waiting for Marc. When the lovebirds are finally reunited, they float with joy above the town… imagery we instantly recognize from Chagall paintings. Even though Bella’s parents want her to marry into money, they reluctantly agree to the love match. The wedding… which starts late because Marc gets sidetracked helping a young artist… becomes a swirl of traditional music, dancing, rich colors and magical imagery.
Bella wonders if they’ll “laugh at me in Paris.” But as it turns out, Paris is out of the picture right now. The year is 1914, and Russia is at war with Germany… and with itself. “The road back to Europe is cut, and there is a revolution in Russia.” With violence everywhere, Chagall can’t work… until he decides to strike out… “I’ll make Vitebsk into a city of the arts… we’ll wake it up.” By creating a center for contemporary art, “Vitebsk can become Paris!” The unlikely project turns out to be wildly successful in attracting top artists. When Kazimir Malevich arrives, it’s a mixed blessing. Malevich wants to “connect with the cosmos,” not the kinds of “bourgeois” paintings that Chagall is known for. Malevich’s calls his work “Supermatism,” and much to the surprise of Marc’s old nemesis, Comrade Naum, Trotsky loves it… dubbing it “Revolutionary Art.” As the revolution deepens, Chagall’s cult may be abandoning him to become the Malevich cult.
Most of Chagall-Malevich centers on the time Chagall was Commissariat of the Academy of Modern Art, 1917-18. While the story is set against historic events, it makes no claim of historic accuracy, which becomes obvious fairly quickly. There’s a kitsch yet wonderful fantasy quality about the story and the cinematography… as if Chagall’s paintings are coming to life. While the story is told from Chagall’s point of view, it introduces us to Malevich, who isn’t as well known outside of Russia. But you’ll instantly recognize his work and its significance. Even though their work was totally different, these two artists are the most iconic Russian painters of the era. This film will definitely have more appeal to those who have an interest in the art or the history, because enjoying it will require overlooking a few details that aren’t at the same level as the cinematic expressionism… for example, the acting and the editing. (It could easily have been a half hour shorter.) One of Bella’s lines in the film describes the delicate balance required for great art, although she’s describing her relationship with Marc… “For one to be able to fly, another must stand firmly on the ground.” Enjoy the flying part and try to overlook the parts that are not quite grounded.