Salt for Svanetia (1930) Poster

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Kalatozov in his element
Kirk24 August 2006
This early Kalatozov documentary about hardships in a remote village in Georgia shows that all his ideas and inventions were with him from the start. Though not the unadulterated festival of inconceivable images that his later films became, this is still full of plenty of unforgettable sequences. In one scene villagers are using an old, rickety pulley to bring water up a tower. It starts out cutting from a simple shot of the water bucket to a simple shot of the villagers, then the cutting becomes faster and faster and the shots get closer and closer and the camera swings back and forth with the villagers as they heave and how and then suddenly a cut is made to the perspective of the water inside the bucket as it gets pulled up the tower. This is merely a single example of the many unforgettable things to be seen in this film. Highly recommended for anyone interested in documentaries and especially early Soviet cinema, and this is absolutely essential viewing for any fans of I AM CUBA or THE CRANES ARE FLYING.
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9/10
Outstanding Cinematography
bucky_bleichert_lives9 October 2004
Just happened to catch this on TCM and my jaw dropped. This movie was made

in 1929, folks... The imagery, the editing... both superb. This is one of the most visually inventive films I have ever seen, and any film buff or artist will, I think, agree with me wholeheartedly.

Prepare for some Soviet propagandist themes in this "documentary." I wasn't

sure that there weren't in fact a few professional actors in the cast -- there were some moments when the content came across as more drama than

documentary; several scenes felt staged. No matter, I was fascinated by the

people whose lives in the remote Svanetia village form the center of the story. And, it bears repeating, the cinematography is gorgeous, surprising at every

turn and just plain mesmerizing at times.

Definitely worth a look if you can find it.
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8/10
Astonishing glimpse at a hardy people
John Seal5 February 2000
So what if it's pure Soviet propaganda...Salt of Svanetia is an amazing looking piece of work that chronicles the hardness of life in the post-Revolutionary expanses of the USSR. There are images in this film you will never see anywhere else...of birth, of work, and of death...all presented bluntly, yet with exquisite artistry .
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8/10
An Inventive Mixture Of Symbolism, Ethnography And Propaganda
Deep in the Caucasian mountains is the region of Svanetia; cut off from civilization by mountains and glaciers. They have snow 8 months out of the year on their mountain pass and thus the Ushkul tribe has remained isolated for centuries, maintaining almost intact their customs and traditions.

"Jim Shvante" ( Salt For Svanetia ) (1930) was directed by Herr Mikhail Kalatozov and certainly is a brilliant, astonishing Soviet film masterpiece that must be watched by any worthy silent film fan.

The film is a semi-documentary about the Ushkul tribe, and their harsh conditions of life in their isolated region. Naturally the communists come to the rescue and provide a brilliant economic plan that brings the region into the twentieth century but of course their way of living and religion must go in the name of progress. It seems that Georgian film directors like Herr Kalatozov (who began his career as a cameraman), had a special fondness for documentaries, giving this film format an excellent opportunity to depict the special idiosyncrasies of the Georgian country.

"Jim Shvante" makes brilliant use of the camera and has man inventive technical tricks. Of course this is all in the service of propaganda but is aesthetically exciting Every shot in the picture is full of epic atmosphere and of course we have the contrast of Soviet progress and modernity (lots of close-ups of machinery and collective human efforts) with the underdevelopment of the Svans who are being held back by their religion and customs. The film is an inventive mixture of symbolism, ethnography and propaganda.

And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must continue his aristocratic isolation from the modern world.

Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
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10/10
Extraordinary documentary virtually unknown
Mario Naito18 September 2003
Extraordinary documentary filmed in the late twenties of the last century in a remote region of the former Soviet Union, anticipates Buñuel´s Las hurdes in showing the poverty and hard lives of people with a mastery work of cinematography and edition. Mijail Kalatozov exhibits here very early why he could do I am Cuba more than thirty years later. Virtually unknown by young movie critics, it´s undoubtly a must for all movie critics fans.
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4/10
Pretty Propaganda
adriennenoracarter11 September 2015
As a student of Russian history, it is hard for me to see 'Salt of Svanetia' as anything but a propaganda film. However, even as a propaganda film, there are incredible things that happen with this film. Kalatazov is a master of imagery. The scenes that overlook Svanetia are breathtaking, but equally interesting are the scenes that focus on the work of the villagers--especially when he focuses on the actual workers. The inter-titles give the film a storyline--this creates a new sort of life to the documentary. The storyline makes the film bearable for even one who is not a film specialist. Kalatazov has done an amazing job of making even propaganda pretty.
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Not Ukrainian!
ramencity22 October 2001
Many visually stunning scenes--it's the superior of Turksib, which is on the same video release. Incidentally, Svanetia is not part of the Ukraine, but is in the northwest of the Georgian Republic, in the Caucasus, not the Carpathian, mountains. This area is still very remote. The Svan language is distantly related to Georgian; there are only a few thousand speakers left.
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9/10
Quasi documentary
samanthamarciafarmer10 December 2015
Kalatozov's Salt For Svanetia opens with a quote from Vladimir Lenin, and any questions as to whether it is a homage to the late leader or an indication of the content to come are quickly answered. The film centers on the Svanetian people in the village of Ushkul, and they are portrayed as culturally backwards and simple people, ruled by religious superstition and the limits of technology. While the portrayal of the Svans seems perhaps a little unfair, the depiction is done impeccably. Techniques Kalatozov uses are the same shots and angles that contemporary documentary filmmakers use; views look down from high mountain passes and from unorthodox ground angles that look up into the faces of people and animals alike. One is overtaken with the beauty of the region, but it is depicted harshly. The environment may be picturesque, but it is dangerous.In this treacherous existence, religion dominates and Kalatozov ensures to cast it in a negative light. The funeral for fallen workers after the avalanche is uncomfortable and ritualistic; scenes of villagers running and falling into the grave doesn't take on any chilling spirituality, it only seems to depict the desperation of the Svans' religion. With this, the film aligns with Soviet doctrine. After depicting hardship for much of the film, the last few propagandistic minutes seem like an afterthought. It emphasizes the power and freedom communism brings, explicitly stating "for the Svans, for the communists, there are no obstacles". It seems like a weak and kitschy ending, and the line "our economic plan is stronger than old religion and customs" drives the point home even more obviously. This film, appeasements aside, is a fascinating depiction of rural life, and its informative pace is hypnotic (regardless of whether or not that information is fully factual).
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6/10
Salt for Svanetia
mflynn-6997012 September 2015
Opening on text exposition and a map to pin point the location of the documentary, 'Salt for Svanetia' seeks to show the cold, desolate, isolated world of the villagers of the remote mountain village of Svanetia. The director goes to great lengths to showcase this village and its villagers as lonely and isolated in the first shots of the film. The film also carries a strong communist message, describing the village's need once for guard towers to protect against the cruel monarchy, and the good that the new communist government is doing for these villagers. The film rests much of its documentary stylization on the ideas described by the members of 'KinoEye,' with pseudo naturalistic shots that seems to show impossible scenes, such as directly down the barrel of a gun mid-conflict, and the entire saga of men going up a mountain and being caught in an avalanche. These scenes seem to use staging and much pre planning to create the necessary effect for the thesis of the film, which seems to be that this village's suffering is due to remoteness, a struggle that roads built by the new government will solve. 'Salt for Svanetia' is nothing like current documentaries, and thusly the story must follow a different structure and pattern. The theme is conveyed through both inter title cards and the kinetic shots and editing used to show urgency and danger within the film. Using montage techniques, unrelated shots are frequently put together to add to the story and support the thesis. The use of montage frequently takes the audience through the unfamiliar rituals and habits of the town, such as sheep shearing, hat making, and funeral rites. The way it is formatted and cut together makes the film feel both educational as well as subjectively pointed, especially with the message of how this village's struggle for salt to survive can be helped. Overall, it is beautifully filmed and the choice of shots helps to create and convey an idea of a desperate, isolated peoples that might only be saved by a new government.
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8/10
Interesting film
Becky Alfaro10 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The start of the film gives truly gives an authentic glimpse at a war-torn time in the Soviet Union's history. Many of the techniques used in the film provided for a great production overall. The use of the camera is especially notable. The way that the camera follows the rock down the tower gives the whole starting scene a more dramatic introduction. For the rest of the film shots of the landscape are also noteworthy in their beauty. Not to mention the faces of the villagers who seem rugged with exhaustion. The fact that there were children out working on the fields alongside their mothers is representative of the times. Seeing how the townspeople were able to create so many things out of the wool was inspiring. It was amazing to see what people left to their own undeveloped devices could come up with. Their multiple uses of the abundant stone were resourceful and innovative to say the least. The town practically sustained itself in every sense without the need for technology or outsourcing. It was definitely interesting to see the amount of determination that each town member had. It was definitely insightful considering the religion aspect of it all. The film was very informative and enjoyable to watch because of the way it was set up with its occasional short burst of comedic relief and its ahead of its time editing technique. It is a great film to watch if you would like to get transported into a different world from ours entirely.
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8/10
What does Svanetia need? salt and communism
dina01316 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The idea of the documentary is to present the life situation of people in extraordinary circumstances, living in an isolated community in one of the far ends of the Soviet Union. The lives of these people are fascinating for today's audiences and for the audiences of the 20s who already lived in modern, industrialized cities or collectivized villages. Kalatozov's documentary delivers to what it promises to be: a realistic image of a still secluded world, of a community with its own habits kneeling to an all-powerful nature.

The film starts with some natural scenes, presenting the geographical setting and remoteness of Svanetia. We learn early on that the people of Svanetia live in hardship, struggling every day to survive. From a political and administrative point of view, the village has barely managed to get over the feudal period, with barons asking their due and attacking the community. Towers are an important way of protection, the pride of Svanetians. Resources are scarce and people work hard; the daily occupations of the villagers are beautifully captured by the director through shots of laboring with animals, taking care of cattle, weaving, building a bridge. Every community, however small, has its own individuality. In this case, Svanetians have their own hair-cuts according to their fashions and make things with the materials that are readily available to them. To depict these scenes, Kalatozov handles the camera excellently and knows when and what to capture: we have close-ups which present the often desperate and exhausted faces of the villagers; blurs and sharp focuses; and a wonderfully executed scene of the carriage encircling a field of barley, and the camera making circles, and circles, and circles.

Beyond the ideas that the film conveys and the evocative imagery, there exists a symbolic element. One of the important themes of the documentary is the lack of salt. Fast-paced scenes emphasize the alarming and potentially harmful nature of this fact. Animals look for salt and lick sweat, blood, and urine to satisfy this essential need. Men of the village go on an expedition to find this important resource, but die because of an avalanche. The desperation caused by the scarcity of the salt reaches its climax in the scene when a funeral and a birth happen on the same day. Instead of welcoming the new-born child into the world, the Svanetians are given to respecting their old traditions and superstitions, leaving the pregnant mother helpless to give birth in the fields. Her child dies, symbol that Svanetia is unable to look to the new things of the future, stuck in its hundred-year old traditions. Svanetia is now faced with an inevitable decision: move to the new, the modern, or stay in its old customs and traditions, oblivious at what happens outside. Religion is depicted in a very negative way, as preventing the villagers from progress. The salvation from all its worries is a new ideology that comes into action from the revolt of men and women tired of the old ways. The repeated explosions made to build the new road remind on of the explosion of force which was imminent with the October Revolution. Working for yourself and for the village seems the right thing to do and the documentary ends with a feeling that hope exists through modernization and embrace of communism.
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8/10
Really good
zetes20 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
From the director of The Cranes Are Flying, Letter Never Sent and I Am Cuba, this is Kalatazov's most famous silent film. This is very much Soviet propaganda. It started off as a ethnographic film with a fictional story. The Svans are people of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, and they have a very ancient culture. The studio (or perhaps the government) made Kalatazov turn it into a documentary (semi-documentary) about Stalin's Five Year Plan and the way it was bringing backward peoples into modern society. The film ends with a montage on Soviets madly building a highway to Svanetia. Near the beginning of the film, there's some angry finger-pointing at Svanetia's supposedly unfair class system. Besides those injections of propaganda, though, the film is mostly about how difficult surviving in Svanetia is (they can't get salt - that's what the Soviets will bring them!). In that way, it's not unlike Bunuel's Las Hurdes or Shindo's The Naked Island or Flaherty's Man of Aran. While Kalatazov's utterly mad cinematography hadn't quite been perfected yet, the man is still a genius with his images. The montage pounds away violently and leaves you breathless. This should really be included in any list of the great Soviet silents.
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