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USSR, 1938 (MIFF 1956, Programme 23)

Director: Mark Donskoi

"Now, as I recall the past, I sometimes have difficulty in believing that it was really like that; I am inclined to refute and protest many of - the facts. . . .

"But the truth is beyond all commiseration and it is not about myself that I am writing, but about the stifling and horrifying surroundings in which the ordinary Russian lived." ("Gorki &ndash: Childhood.")

Mark Donskoi's constant motif was human dignity in the new society, and the work which revealed him as a master of his art was his trilogy based on Maxim Gorki's Autobiographies, of which The Childhood of Maxim Gorki is generally rated the best.

Donskoi was Gorki's ardent admirer. His kindred spirit and the pathos in his films derives from a like power, identified in Gorki, to love and to hate, to be always conscious of the yearnings of the underprivileged, to have inexhaustible faith in human goodness and dignity, and to passionately hate meanness and oppression.

In The Childhood of Maxim Gorki, Donskoi achieved a film, though having a firm bearing on its time, containing a poetry and humanity in no way obscured by didacticism. While he is primarily concerned with social criticism, his sympathies are never limited by political outlook.

The Childhood of Maxim Gorki won immediate appreciation from overseas critics. The most remarkable portrayals are probably those of the grandmother and grandfather: Massalitinova makes a brilliant characterisation of the grandmother whose selfless love for the world gives her power to withstand evils and hardships.

The grandfather is the raging old man whose nature has been twisted by the struggle to survive the hard conditions; yet there's tenderness in his cruel love for Alexis. The children in the film bring their world with them intact and have the elusive quality of nature itself.

Despite its faults (it lacks tightness of construction and dynamism), the film "touches the mind and heart as no film within years has done. Here the high tensility of courage withstands the stupid meanness, the slyness, chicanery and greed."

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