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WHITE NIGHTS

USSR, 1959 (MIFF 1961, Programme 15)

Director: Ivan Pyryev

Dostoevsky's famous bitter sweet story - of the girlwho wails 'or the return of her lover from abroad, wandering through the night streets of St Petersburg, and finding temporary consolation in the friendship of a dreamer who falls in love with her - has inspired several film versions, the most recent being Visconti's with Maria Schell.

Dostoevsky called "White Nights" a "sentimental novel". It is the confession of a pure heart untouched by the ugliness of life. The leading character passes his youth in poverty and loneliness, but does not forfeit the best aspects of his humanity or ability to see the better side of things. Two kinds of beauty seem to combine in his view of the world: real, earthly beauty, and the view of an imaginary world that does not exist, but might. Both are good and both are in their way ephemeral. Pyryev brings the haunting love story to life with great delicacy and charm, he seems at home in this world of misty romantic entanglements. Beginning in a light, almost detached manner, the director draws us slowly and tactfully into the lives of these strangely tormented characters. Indeed the film is distinguished by a lyrical quality throughout and it is a film of many moods - its early dream sequences include a riotous parody on Douglas Fairbanks and, surprisingly, Russian ballet. The photography is excellent, and captures with enchanting melancholy the leisurely atmosphere of Nineteen Century St Petersburg, particularly the mists at twilight over the river where the two young people meet.

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