Imperial Russia

Krestyanskaya Dolya
(The Peasant’s Lot)
R: Vasilii Goncharov. B: Arsenii Bibikov. K: Louis Forestier. D: Aleksandra Goncharova, Ivan Mozzhukhin, Pyotr Chardynin, Arsenii Bibikov, Lidiia Tridenskaia. P: Khanzhonkov. RUS 1912

“The Peasants’ Lot (…) concerns the citizens of a small village and particularly a courting couple. Petr (Ivan Mozzhukhin) is courting Masha (Aleksandra Goncharova) with the help of the local matchmaker. Both fathers agree to the match and a marriage is being planned when disaster strikes. Masha’s family home is burnt to the ground. Petr’s father will not allow him to marry into a ruined family and the wedding is off. Destitute, Masha’s family sells their cow but the money does not last. Wages are low in the country but the city offers better prospects. Masha is sent to work as a maid for a wealthy family. The master of the house notices her and waits for an opportunity. Masha receives a letter informing her that her father is ill. The master sees her tearful demeanor, reads the letter and realizes this is his chance. He counts out a stack of bills. In the next scene, Masha stumbles into her own room with her hands full of money. Her disheveled appearance tells us all we need to know. (…)”
Fritzi Kramer
MOVIES SILENTLY

“A contemporary review acclaimed The Peasants’ Lot as a fine picture on a subject ‘close to the heart of every Russian’. As well as applauding the ‘well-considered and excellent performances’ by Goncharova and Mozzhukhin, the reviewer enthused over its choice of scenes from peasant life: ‘the scene at the races is wonderfully presented, the fire in the village vividly depicted, the pictures of rural life alternate successfully, hopeless poverty contrasting with the existence of a rich family in the capital.’ Here was a ‘balanced’ view of the country, as seen from the city, which followed Goncharov’s solidly traditional approach, echoing the view of rural life familiar from Russian 19th-century literature. A film that clearly answered the urgent demand for ‘national’ images that confirmed the increasingly unstable status quo.”
Milestone Films

Brat’ya-Razboiniki
(The Brigand Brothers)
R: Vasilii Goncharov. B: Vasilii Goncharov, based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin. K: Aleksander Ryllo. D: Arsenii Bibikov, Ivan Mozhukhin, Vasilii Stepanov, Dolinina, Aleksandra Goncharova. P: Khanzhonkov. RUS 1912
Begun 1911, but never released.

“Subtitled ‘cagily’ as ‘scenes from’ the eponymous romantic poem by Alexander Pushkin, this was one of the Khanzhonkov studio’s (and its veteran director Vasilii Goncharov’s) patent efforts to make their films look more Russian by basing their stories on Russian history and Russian literary classics. Two brothers are reduced by poverty to crime, but their moving love for each other redeems all their killings in the reader’s (and viewer’s) eyes.
By then already a full-time performer at Khanzhonkov, Mozhukhin was successful in both comedy and dramatic roles. This was one of the finest films of his early career. Note his first attempts at ‘psychology’ (which would become Mozhukhin’s trademark in years to come), and the touches of Grand Guignol realism in the direction the protracted death pangs of the first victim, and the heart-rending scene at the open grave. Note also Aleksander Ryllo’s tour-de-force photography, particularly of a shallow sandbar on the Moscow River, used as the location for the convicts’ escape, visually the most memorable scene of the film.”
Yuri Tsivian
Cineteca del Friuli

Rusalka
(Mermaid)
R: Vasilii Goncharov. K: Vladimir Siversen. Bauten: V. Fester. D: Vasilii Stepanov, Aleksandra Goncharova, Andrei Gromov. P: Khanzhonkov. RUS 1910

Rusalka, based on Pushkin’s play about a prince and a mermaid, followed in Goncharov’s resolutely ornate style, with Fester once again creating a decor based on the popular narrative painting of the time. The film’s trick effects and surreal underwater set are less typical of Russian production and may reflect the popularity of Pathé’s trick films at this time. By 1911, when the unreleased Brigand Brothers was started, Goncharov’s pantomime style seemed dated. Yet with the future star Mozhukhin already showing his quality, and superb locations around the Moscow River, he managed one of the most expressive of all early classic adaptations – in this case Pushkin’s epic poem.”
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