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If this film was not explicitly the inspiration for Truffaut's Jules and Jim then he and Room certainly had the same muse singing on their shoulders. A fascinating silent film, very influential and far ahead of its time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an amazingly frank film when it comes to sexuality considering
that it was made in 1927. While it doesn't show any nudity, it does
have a plot that is more sexual in nature than the Pre-Code American
films being made at the time.
My biggest reason for enjoying the film actually had little to do with the plot. Instead, I loved seeing all the shots of Moscow from this era--it was a much prettier and spectacular city than I had imagined. I really liked all the street scenes and major sites shown mostly near the beginning of the film. I also loved the inventive camera work--something you don't see in most silents.
A construction foreman and his wife live in a small apartment. Soon, the husband brings home an old friend to stay with them. It seems the two men were both comrades in the army during the Revolution. But, as there isn't much room, the friend must sleep on the couch--while the couple sleep together behind a thin curtain. After weeks of such an arrangement, the husband goes on a business trip--during which time the friend and the wife have sex. When the husband returns, he sees that he's not wanted and leaves. But, later when he returns to get his things, he is encouraged to stay and have a very open relationship. A couple months pass and she becomes pregnant and neither man know whose child it is--so they suggest to her she get an abortion! Eventually, she decides not to and leaves for good--leaving the two men to share the apartment.
So, the film talks about adultery, a ménage à trois and abortion--what an interesting little film. I don't know if such topics were usually talked about in Soviet films to know if this was the norm. I had thought Soviet films were rather conservative, but I am very, very far from an expert on Russian films. It did shock me and this kept me watching--even if the rest of the film was only average. The biggest reason to watch this is for curiosity sake, as the humor didn't seem funny enough to recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was surprised that a previous IMDb reviewer has compared this movie
to 'Some Like It Hot'. (I assume he means the Billy Wilder comedy, not
the Bob Hope musical.) If 'Tretya meschanskaya' resembles any Billy
Wilder movie, it would have to be 'The Apartment'.
Volodia is a young man from the Russian provinces who has come to Moscow seeking work, since he's unable to find any employment back home. He discovers to his regret that jobs are pretty thin on the ground in Moscow, and so are apartments. Purely as a temporary measure (ha, ha), he knocks up his former army squadmate Kolia, who lives in a Muscovite walk-up flat with his pretty wife Liuda. Kolia reluctantly agrees to let Volodia kip on the sofa until something better turns up. Kolia and his wife will maintain their privacy in the small bedroom.
SPOILERS COMING. While Kolia is away on business, Liuda and Volodia become attracted to each other. (I guess those army buddies share everything.) Kolia comes home unexpectedly and discovers what's been going on. Now Kolia wants to move out and abandon his wife to Volodia, but he discovers that the same housing shortage which brought Volodia to his doorstep is still in place: Kolia has nowhere else to go. The uneasy menage continues, only now it's Volodia who's in the bedroom with Liuda, and it's Kolia who's on the couch in his own apartment. How long can this go on, comrade?
I was faintly surprised that the Soviets would make 'Tretya meschanskaya' at all, much less approve it for exhibition. Central to this film's premise are several factors that reflect unfavourably on the Soviet regime: rampant unemployment in the provinces, urban unemployment, severe housing shortages, and the fact that the government can mandate apartment tenants to take in a roomer. In communist Russia, most apartment rentals were subsidised by the government, therefore the government could force tenants to share their small residential units with a total stranger. The fact that Moscow rents were significantly cheaper than rents in London, Paris or New York is allegedly proof of the benefits of collectivism ... until one realises that workers in Moscow made far less money than their blue-collar equivalents in those other cities.
I was also surprised for one other reason. This movie stresses that privacy is important to everyone, and is a basic human right. I never expected to encounter such sentiments in a communist film.
While this film resists easy comparisons to any American film, if I had to compare it to a specific Hollywood movie my choice would be neither 'The Apartment' nor 'Some Like It Hot' but rather another movie that also starred Jack Lemmon: 'The Odd Couple'. Despite the rivalry between the flatmates Kolia and Volodia, we sense their underlying friendship ... not unlike the relationship between Felix and Oscar. I agree with the IMDb reviewer who compared this movie to 'Jules et Jim'.
Refreshingly, much of the humour in 'Tretya meschanskaya' is universal, and has more to do with the menage-a-trois situation than with the politics. I laughed several times while watching this comedy, and I'll rate it 7 out of 10.
recently i have watched many silent films from the 1920s and early
1930s. it has been somewhat an embarrassing but at the same time also a
thrilling discovery or perhaps almost a revelation to realize how there
are dozens of hidden gems. it is a sad fact that few people are
interested and bother enough to watch silent films these days on their
full HD or 4K TVs - the silent classics are of course oddities for the
vast majority of the dull and therefore quite rare presentations on the
commercial television channels or in film festivals anyway.
but you should keep them in mind when searching for new experiences if you want to be taken seriously as a film buff. take this abram room's "bed and sofa" (Третья мещанская) from 1927 for instance. what an amazing discovery for anyone who thinks a silent film is an American slapstick comedy or in this case if it is particularly a soviet silent film it ought be some eisenstein pudovkin or dovzhenko or other political propagandist vehicle. well, this is not: it is an erotic marriage comedy and a sort of a comedy that succeeds - still - to astonish the audience after 90 years of its first appearance.
there are many appropriate though inexhaustible plot keywords to describe the story: open marriage/ polyamory/ sexual liberation/ swinging twenties in the NEP soviet Russia/ womens liberation/ latent homosexuality etc. from these keywords alone you may figure out that in 1927 it was somehow both a reflection of its freewheeling times and sexual morals and also in the broader historical and sociological perspective lightyears ahead of its time. Bolshevist attitude and soviet state policy towards sex and marriage was quite liberal or avantgardist throughout the twenties partly because of the collapse of traditional society (though only in the cities!) and partly because marriage was seen as an irrelevant and old-fashioned remnant of bourgeois social order (as religion) but the mood was already gradually changing by the late twenties; if this film would have been made ten years later the director could have ended up in serious trouble.
i may well imagine that NKVD would probably have visited room at 4 o'clock in the morning (the usual visiting hour of Stalin's own wolves) and the immediate shot in the neck or at least a long-term visit to the gulag with outdoor forced labor in vorkuta would have resulted after a short interrogation and mock trial. but back in 1927 Stalin was not yet in the absolute power and the governmental supervision of films in the country was not that strict. however, as a reflection of the changing times, room's film already underwent alongside with many other films of the era severe criticism about the lack of its political awareness.
by the way the accidental and innocent kiss between the male leading characters in this love triangle still remains of the rare "homoerotic" kisses in all soviet/Russian cinema. i am not sure if it is even the only one!? at least in putin's Russia that kind of audacity would be totally impossible. as you know homosexuality was virtually "nonexistent" in the soviet union so there was no reason to portray it in the films, either.
Early on, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks is a comedy and meant to be understood as such. Magazines showing how barbaric Russia is alleged to be are exaggerated, but so is the Americanness of Mr. West; no one just carries around an American flag and spangled socks. Kuleshov's work in this film is not as serious as his contemporaries Eisenstein or Vertov, and perhaps as such there appears to be less esoteric uses of montage. It's present in small snatches like cuts to a shot of West's briefcase or a tea kettle boiling, but the technique is subtler than other films of the experimental left at the time. That doesn't mean it lacks technicality, though. The chase scene is masterful and clear despite rapid changes of perspective from horseback to automobile, and Jeddy's stunts are impressive. The directorial choice to include a backdrop of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was surely no accident, and it places the film in a setting that is distinctly Moscow. And although it was added after, the music accompaniment often drives an otherwise dragging plot. The inclusion of Yankee Doodle Dandy is particularly amusing and fits the goofy mood. One has to wonder, however, if it sat well with Bolshevik ideology. Besides showing what Russians thought of Americans and vice versa, the only inclusion of real Bolshevik society was a tour by a police officer at the end; additionally, the depiction of the poverty and moral depravity of the con-artists provide a not-so-flattering view of Russia. Through the lens of comedy, however, it might be excused. Mr. West, in sum, is a comedy with sequences reminiscent of the Three Stooges, and such an over the top production would surely not have been handled as competently in the hands of a lesser director than Lev Kuleshov.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SYNOPSIS: Husband agrees to board his best friend (who is looking for
work) in his small Moscow apartment. While husband is away, best friend
and wife play.
COMMENT: Startling at times, bur more often dull, this movie certainly commences most promisingly. I love the inventively lyrical camera-work of the scenes on the train and our hero's first glimpses of Moscow. Once the movie settles down, however, it's a different story. Miss Semyonova is a fine actress, but there's no disguising the fact that she's way too chubby for the part of a siren. True, photographer Gregori gives it a good try, but you can't focus on a person's face all the time. Our heroine's make-up, hair style and clothes are also remarkably plain. The men, on the other hand, could easily stand in for the heroes of any Hollywood picture you like to name. However, although the story strains credulity on this score, it could have been put across with such style that it wouldn't matter whether the wife looked like Comrade Semyonova or Fraulein Marlene Dietrich. But after the fascinating allure of the opening scenes, for the most part, both direction and camera-work settle down into the rigidly routine. True, the concluding scene promises a repeat of the opening, but this promise is not realized either. In fact, the movie abruptly finishes before we have even got our bearings in this sudden change-of-scene.
SUMMING UP: Good in parts but on the whole, somewhat disappointing, Bed and Sofa is a movie that on the whole doesn't live up to its reputation.
"Tretya meshchanskaya" (called "Bed and Sofa" in English) is what I
would consider the Soviet Union's version of "Some Like It Hot": what
it portrays was no doubt really mind-blowing when it was first
released, even if it doesn't seem so much nowadays.
The movie portrays Kolya (Nikolay Batalov) and Lyuda (Lyudmila Semyonova) living in a Moscow apartment. Kolya is a mild goof-ball whose proudest feature seems to be his hairy chest, while Lyuda is clearly unfulfilled in life and looks stern all the time. One day, Kolya's war buddy Volodya (Vladimir Fogel) arrives and asks if he can live with them. They agree, but then Volodya does more than eat up his welcome mat! One interesting scene is early in the movie when Volodya kicks a rock into the river. When the rock hits the water, it naturally creates ripples. This may mean that everything's about to get upset. All in all, worth seeing.
This is a silent film made relatively early in the history of the Soviet Union. A construction worker allows his unemployed friend to stay at home with his young beautiful wife and whoops! This is actually a pretty good movie, although like many silent Soviet films, the score, while nice, is way too dramatic.
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