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Altovaya sonata. Dmitriy Shostakovich (1981)

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Title: Altovaya sonata. Dmitriy Shostakovich (1981)

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Release Date:

1981 (Soviet Union)  »

Also Known As:

Sonata for Viola. Dmitri Shostakovitch  »

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(Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) | (DVD)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Artistically filmed biopic
21 August 2013 | by (Boulder, CO) – See all my reviews

This is not a straightforward biography--little attempt is made to be complete or tell the tale in a linear fashion. In fact some of the latter parts of Shostakovich's life are covered at the beginning. The film is pieced together from archival film footage, narrative, photos, and original imagery forming a collage that makes a lasting impression.

Many scenes discussing Shostakovich at a particular age are presented against a backdrop of footage from the era being considered, not necessarily directly applicable to Shostakovich himself. For example, there is early footage panning across a street scene in Leningrad when Shostakovich's young life is being considered. There is footage from an amusement park where one ride is particularly amusing--on this ride several people initially form at the center of a large rotating disk and, as the disk speeds up, some hang on, others are thrown to the side, while a few manage to stay upright by trotting in place. Pick your favorite metaphor to apply to that scene.

There are many little jewels to be had. There is footage of Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the final few minutes of the 5th Symphony as well as a young Leonard Bernstein (from a performance by the New York Philharmonic in Moscow in 1959, with Shostakovich in the audience) conducting the same. Played back-to-back these segments offer a great comparison of Mravinsky's cool precision vs. Berstein's hyper emotionalism. There is a still image of Shostakovich at Prokofiev's casket and at his grave. There is footage of Shostakovich playing the last part of his 1st piano concerto, showing that he was a virtuosic pianist as well as a great composer. Also a quintet is shown playing the lovely ending of Shostakovich's piano quintet,

Of course we get a sampling of much of Shostakovich's music throughout which makes for a compelling score, even if the sound quality is not the best. Interesting that Shostakovich expressed disdain for composing music for film since his music has now been used in over one hundred feature films. After the movie I felt the need to revisit some old Shostakovich favorites and explore some compositions that I had never heard, like the violin sonata of the title. Not all of Shostakovich's work is easily digested, for example I think that an appreciation for Shostakovich's opera "The Nose" may be reserved for but a few.

The artistic flourishes of the directors are sometimes enigmatic, such as the opening scene that has a fuzzy globe swinging in an out of focus. This image is also used toward the end. Many of the filming techniques used, like zooming in or panning across still images to make them seem alive, preceded the same techniques used so effectively by Ken Burns in his documentaries.


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