In the beginning of the industrial revolution, the Paris Commune was established in 1871 against the rich and the powerful, and violently repressed by the army that remained faithful to a ... See full summary »
In the beginning of the industrial revolution, the Paris Commune was established in 1871 against the rich and the powerful, and violently repressed by the army that remained faithful to a tamer form of Republicanism. How could the love story between a young sales girl and a soldier unable to decide if he was pro or against the radical fashion? Two short months were needed for the answer to be found - in blood and tears, and under rain that washes all past memories. Any day, a New Babylon shop will open with frilly things for the bourgeois girls. The washerwomen will be there to wash them. Written by
A few weeks before the premiere in March 1929, Soviet censors cut several scenes. This led to Shostakovich's score being dropped entirely, perhaps because it no longer matched the edited film, or because his music was considered too radical. See more »
It is, I suppose, fair to say that this is a propaganda film because it does deliver a political message. On the other hand, it's not too outlandish of a message. Perhaps there were reasons to oppose the Paris Commune, although none occur to me. However, a discussion of propaganda in films is in itself somewhat redundant: most films might face the same charges. After all, film is an art form that chooses to present a series of images and sounds, usually dialogue but also music (and in this case there is in the best version a stunning score by Shostakovich) in order to manipulate the feelings and the thoughts of the viewer. "Apocalypse Now", for instance, is an examination of war and its component parts that does not shy away from politics or advocacy. It is clear to the viewer that the filmmaker is asking questions about why that war was fought. "Armaggedon" also supports a particular political world view, as does "First Blood", "The Seventh Seal", "Sex in the City" and even "Toy Story".
Despite my sympathies, however, it is not the politics that I love about this film - it is not the message but the artful use of the medium that sells me on this work of art. This is a moving and beautiful film, with fully realised character development and wonderfully magical imagery. After the parasols, the train and the cancan dancers, you should keep an eye out in particular for the shots in the last segments of the film. Kozintsev and Trauberg work little miracles with everyday objects such as lace, shovels and pianos. (Amazingly enough, these artists continued their magic for a long time -Trauberg worked until the early 1960s and Kozintsev directed his last film, which many consider the best "King Lear" for the cinema, in 1971.) "New Babylon" is, in a number of ways, a good companion piece for "The Man with a Movie Camera", the best of the Russian silents that I have seen. While it does indulge the "message" shot - there are a number of those but most are extremely well-done and worth seeing; the milk-for-soldiers is one, the juxtaposed lives are another - it is the realism of this film that elevates it, not its occasional slip into histrionics. The female lead, Yelena Kuzmina, is excellent, an actress who commands your attention and earns your sympathy, but it is in all the secondary roles put together that the city of Paris of 1870 and 1871 truly comes alive. In these earlier films, before sound drew us in, it was the faces that needed to speak, and these do, eloquently. The department store owner, the old soldiers, the contemptuous general, the washerwomen and the journalist with hope for humanity, they are all clamoring to tell you something. Exactly what they say to you may depend on your own world view, but their comments should be interesting to everyone.
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