Aleksei Guerman: The Complete Features

Although widely heralded in his native Russia, the visionary and controversial director Aleksei Guerman remains virtually unknown in the West.  This oversight is all the more puzzling given that his historical epic My Friend Ivan Lapshin was voted the greatest Soviet film of all time in a national poll of Russian critics, beating out international superstars Tarkovsky and Eisenstein. While he’s a more prolific actor and screenwriter, Guerman’s slender directorial oeuvre (five features in 45 years) can be attributed to a combination of cinematic perfectionism, manifest in his trademark high contrast black-and-white and sinuous long takes, and official censorship: Trial on the Road and Lapshin’s searing indictments of Stalinism caused both to sit completed on the shelf for years before finding release.  His most recent film, 1998’s Khrustalyov, My Car!, is a dark, surreal trip through Stalinist Russia that imbues historical events with the aura of mythology.  It appeared on many best-of-the-90s lists, and left critics salivating for his long-gestating sci-fi adaptation of Hard to be a God, which has been over a decade in the making and is still not complete.  At once absurdist and grim, awestruck and knowing, Guerman’s cinema comprises an unforgettable odyssey through Stalin’s regime.

  • Sat., Oct. 6 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

A searing anti-war film, Guerman’s first solo feature was banned for 15 years.  Based on true events in WWII, the film follows Lazarev, a Russian sergeant who defected to the Nazis, only to later return to the Red Army. Suspicious of his loyalty, Lazarev’s co-combatants repeatedly make him prove his allegiance through a gauntlet of increasingly risky missions.  “Bravura filmmaking at its best.” (Artforum)

  • Sat., Oct. 6 | 8:45 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Guerman’s first feature was co-directed with the more established (and conventional) Griogori Aronov, to whom he ceded more control.  Nevertheless, Guerman’s oblique view of history and rough wartime humanism are on full display in this vision of the Russian civil war.  Imprisoned by revolutionary forces, a bourgeois general is cleared of his crimes and released back into society, only to find his apartment has turned into a crowded commune.

  • Sat., Oct. 13 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

In a characteristically perverse move, Guerman followed the banned Trial on the Road with a second critical WWII film that keeps the war almost entirely offscreen.  On leave from the front, a soldier returns to his hometown, where he encounters a film crew producing a bombastic adaptation of his own war correspondence, and courts a seamstress in the costume department.

  • Sat., Oct. 20 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Heralded as the greatest Soviet film of all time in a national poll of film critics, this legendary movie is itself an inquiry into the nature of legends.  A beloved provincial policeman is remembered 50 years later for both his heroism and his involvement in a love triangle.  Based on popular stories by Guerman’s father, Lapshin’s life unfolds in a fragmented narrative film scholar Ian Christie deemed “as elaborate as anything in Orson Welles.”

  • Sat., Oct. 27 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

“One of the few indisputable masterpieces of world cinema of the past 40 years” (Film Comment), this phantasmagorical odyssey into the dark heart of Soviet Russia is mad, bewildering, and unlike anything you’ve seen.  The delirious scenario follows a Red Army general/brain surgeon during the mayhem of Stalin’s final days.  “An orchestrated cataclysm, a narrative inferno that demands to be inhabited rather than decoded… Russian cinema’s answer to Finnegan’s Wake.” – Sight and Sound.