Russia: Jevgenij Bauer’s Masterpiece

Djeti vjeka (Children of the Age)
R: Jevgenij Bauer. B: M Mikhailov. K: Boris Zavelev. D: Vera Kholodnaja, Ivan Gorskij, Arsenij Bibikov, V. Glinskaja, S. Rassatov, A Sotnikov. P: Aleksandr Khanzhonkov & Co. RUS 1915
Without intertitles

“The picture tells the story of Maria (Vera Kholodnaja), a devoted wife of a bank employee. The couple has a cozy life; they have a baby, but he is cared for by their maid so Maria can spend her time doing terrific things like going shopping. During one of these consumer afternoons Maria meets by chance an old friend, Lidia, who will introduce her to exclusive idle social circles. Soon Maria’s beauty attracts the interest of Lebedev, a rich old libertine. From that point on Maria suffers continual sexual harassment (…)  which she resists for a time. In the end however she falls into his bourgeois claws.”

For a more detailed summary see:
Louise McReynolds: Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era. Cornell University Press 2003. Introduction

Bauer entered the cinema as set designer for Drankov, but when in that capacity he moved over to Khanzhonov, he was given an entirely free hand, directing as well for him — and Bauer’s first film as such, Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913), still survives. Like most Russian filmmakers of this period, Bauer gave audiences the doom and gloom they craved, often with a last-reel suicide — but he did it with a sophistication matched only by Yakov Protazanov. For instance, in Child of the Big City a working-girl is wooed by a rich man attracted to women outside his own class; after marriage he bores her and she seduces a valet before deciding to use her husband’s friends to become a courtesan, because she does not wish to give up a life of luxury. He, ruined, seeks her out, only to find her no less contemptuous than she was when their marriage ended.
In Silent Witnesses the title characters are the servants of Moscow’s sybaritic high society, but they have an independent life of their own, caring and principled. When one young maid has a mind to the advantages of being a rich man’s lady and, after a half-hearted refusal, acquiesces, she finds her position too insecure to protest against his continuing infidelities. In all of Bauer’s films drunken parties and sexual license are the prerogatives of the rich, who are also vindictive, cruel, and without moral values—but they are also dangerously attractive. In Children of the Age a loving young wife allows an aged roué to seduce her and remains with him even after he has reduced her husband to penury by having him sacked. Her options are open, and furthermore she remains sympathetic, though the peasant audiences of Czarist Russia might well have thought that this brutally unequal society ought to be destroyed forthwith. It would be an overstatement to describe Bauer as subversive, but the society he depicts is wholly unadmirable, mortally sick.”
David Shipman
Film Reference

“This is the most overtly political of the films I have seen directed by Jevgenij Bauer and clearly shows his involvement in the contemporary Russian discourse on social equality and unprincipled capitalism. Children of the Age (Djeti vjeka) may not be a long film but it packs a lot into its 38 minutes: class conflict, sexual violence, corruption… and the human misery derived from all.
Bauer’s trademark touches are all in evidence with the backdrop to every scene beautifully constructed not just for the interiors but also with locations showing Moscow and its surrounding countryside. Djeti vjeka is a feast for the eyes throughout with perfectly judged camerawork and cutting allowing an expressive cast to flourish.”

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