Outskirts is an internationally renowned masterpiece of early sound cinema. In a remote Russian village during World War I, colorful and nuanced characters experience divided loyalties: ... See full summary »
Outskirts is an internationally renowned masterpiece of early sound cinema. In a remote Russian village during World War I, colorful and nuanced characters experience divided loyalties: family loyalty vs. personal desire, nationalism vs. transcendent humanism. Written by
Introduction: Kuleshov was a genius, and most of his students are worth getting to know about.
Barnet was really the most inconspicuous of Kuleshov's cycle, always quite apart from cinematic polemics raging at the time. He looked like a big lunkhead when we first see him as a cowboy in Kuleshov's Mr. West from '24. His first stab at directing assigned by his mentor, as I read, was a long serial on Fritz Lang territory about spies and counter-spies and international intrigue, except humorous and whimsical. He made another two silent comedies, one of which I've seen, very delicate and sweet-natured class conflict, almost dainty blood.
Now this, about events leading up to the Revolution of '17 and so by nature more sombre and reflective. Eisenstein and Pudovkin had turned out rigorously-driven paeans for the 10 year anniversary, Barnet's is something else altogether.
It is comedy about neighbors and brothers who are too stubborn to embrace true feelings, searing drama in next beat about these mutual feelings sublimated in the massive conflict of war. It bleeds and you laugh with a laughter that is sadness.
It is plain fun to watch for the duration. There is sound but nowhere near as radical use as in Pudovkin's Dezertir from that same year. Barnet was a much more gentle soul, eventually took his own life - the story goes - because he could not deliver any more art on the level he aspired to.
It's all in the ending here, a true apotheosis of cinematic expression and one of the best moments in 30's film, truly far-reaching stuff. You have to do the work though, it's not laid out in the open.
Two brothers have gone to war, the father receives news from the trenches that one has died, the young, rash one. Meanwhile a German POW has returned in his place; the same age, also a shoe-maker, a worker, and love awaits him in captivity the young brother was denied in an early scene on the same bench. The brother dead for a dubious cause has been surreally transmuted back home into a narrative that now turns vindictive, cruel, anxious - the German POW is summarily beaten by Russians, persecuted. Barnet's coup is that these scenes depict a Revolution under foot, a valiant cause in communist lore.
Meanwhile the older brother is still at the front fighting the war. We hardly ever see the German enemy, it's mostly exhausted soldiers futilely storming desolate no man's land, pure internal landscape. He calls off the war, single-handedly walking in the firing range and is summarily arrested by Russians as a traitor. Last news he hears is that the Winter Palace has been stormed. His response, on the threshold of consciousness: "what a rush!".
Barnet had Kuleshov's films to draw from on how to outwit the censors, but he outdoes even his mentor here in his ability to envision a multi-dimensional fabric.
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