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Distributed for Intellect Ltd

Aleksandr Askoldov

The Commissar

Filmed in1966 and ’67, but kept from release for twenty years, The Commissar is unquestionably one of the most important and compelling films of the Soviet era. Based on a short story by Vasily Grossman, it tells of a female Red Army commissar who is forced to stay with a Jewish family near the frontlines of the battle between the Red and White Armies as she waits to give birth. The film drew the ire of censors for its frank portrayal of the violence faced by Russian Jews in the wake of the revolution.
            This book is the first companion to the film in any language. It recounts the film’s plot and turbulent production history, and it also offers a close analysis of the artistic vision of its director, Aleksandr Askoldov, and the ways that viewers can trace in the film not only his complex aesthetics, but also the personal crises he endured in the years leading up to the film. The result is an indispensable companion to an unforgettable film.

112 pages | 25 halftones | 7 x 9 | © 2016

Film Studies

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"[Grinberg's] book on one of the most important films of the glasnost' era will be of interest and importance to movie buffs as well as students and teachers of Russian film and literature."

Slavic and East European Journal

"Marat Grinberg’s film companion to The Commissar... aims to demonstrate that Aleksandr Askoldov’s only film is not only an indispensable historical artifact for understanding late Soviet cinematic politics, but also one of the greatest films of European post-war cinema, placing Askoldov in the company of acknowledged masters such as Francois Truffaut, Luchino Visconti and Jean-Luc Godard... Grinberg... excels in ferreting out literary antecedents to the film [and] is most effective in explaining the myriad ways in which Askoldov embeds Jewish motifs, images, language and folk culture into the film... It is hard to imagine a more complete analysis of this aspect of The Commissar."

Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema:

"Marat Grinberg argues that Aleksandr Askoldov’s four primary intertextual references in The Commissar came from literature. They were the authors Vasilii Grossman (on whose short story, In the Town of Berdichev, Askoldov based his screenplay), Mikhail Bulgakov (on whom Askoldov wrote his unfinished dissertation at Moscow State University’s philology department), Isaak Babel΄ (whose Red Cavalry was one of the film’s explicit sources), and Pavel Kogan (whose poem about the Bolshevik revolution, written in 1939–1941, was published in 1965). Perhaps even more strikingly and in contrast to previous writings on Askoldov’s film, Grinberg reframes The Commissar as a Jewish film."

Maria Belodubrovskaya | Slavic Review

Table of Contents

Note on transliteration
KinoSputniks general editors’ preface
List of illustrations
Production credits
Plot summary
Chapter 1: Introduction: Production history
Chapter 2: Literary sources
Chapter 3: Film analysis
Chapter 4: 1987 and after: Critical reception and debates

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