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A hapless loser (with the surname of Loser) undergoes misadventures with avaracious clergy, a tired horse, and a walking granary (among other things) on his road to collectivized happiness. Written by
Erik Gregersen <email@example.com>
I really love silent cinema of all types, and some of my very favorite films are silent (Voyage to the Moon, Battleship Potemkin, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., Safety Last, City Lights, Modern Times). Battleship Potemkin (and Sergei Eisenstein in general) got me interested in Soviet silent film, so I was excited to find this particular title, Happiness, on my local video shelf (although that is not a link, this is available for purchase, if not at Amazon, check other sites. I picked it up and put it in my VCR. I had expected something heavy and powerful like Potemkin (and many other films that I had read about), but it turned out not to be exactly what I expected. Happiness is, in fact, a Russian silent comedy. No, it is quite unlike the silent comedies of Keaton, Lloyd, and Chaplin. It shares a few characteristics (especially Chaplin's famed swift-kick-in-the-butt, so prevalent in his pre-feature-length shorts), but it is a lot more socially conscious. What's more, it manages to be both socially conscious (and very much so) AND quite humorous (also very much so). The main character, actually named Loser, is just a great character. He is the archetypical lovable loser. He can't do a thing right, ends up messing things up completely in every situation. At one point he is asked to protect his farming community's storage barn, and when trying to chase a goat away from some crops, he fails to notice a bunch of people literally steal the house!
Perhaps the funniest scene in the film is the one where Loser chooses to give up his life (strange in comedy: there are two different scenes with jokes about suicide, and both actually work) because thieves stole his horse, the last bit of property he owned (though it was a particularly bad horse). He builds a coffin, measuring it for himself by stretching out in it to see if it will be comfortable. There is a great set piece where Loser is smoothing the wood of his coffin on a workhorse, and when he moves back and forth, shaving the wood, the workhorse moves rhythmically back and forth like a real horse (maybe you'd have to see it to understand). The local magistrate catches him doing this (i.e., planning suicide) and he speaks a very telling line: "If the peasants start killing themselves, where will we get crops?" "Killing yourself is illegal," the magistrate informs him. He gets the local wing of the army, in which the commons soldiers are no longer individuals, but rather automatons with big, puffy, rubber masks (they very much resemble the school children in the film Pink Floyd's the Wall). The captain of this troop, when Loser says that he can no longer live, says to his soldiers: "Beat him half to death!"
The only problem with this film is that I believe some scenes are missing. The story is sort of difficult to follow at times. Otherwise, it is a very good film, unfortunately forgotten as so many old films are. 8/10
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