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USSR, 1928 (MIFF 1990, Retrospectives)

Director: Boris Barnet

Filmgoers whose knowledge of the classic Soviet cinema is limited to the confirmed greats such as Eisenstein, Podovkin and Dovzhenko owe it to themselves to get acquainted with the comedies of Boris Barnet (1902-1964), whose best films are marvellous blends of American slapstick, the French touch a la Rene Clair, and the satiric gaiety of the experimental Soviet FEKS group.

This 1928 silent film - it was Barnet's third production, - is an exhilarating blast of good humour, satire and parody, following the misadventures of a naive peasant girl who comes to Moscow and finds employment as the exploited servant of an unscrupulous barber and his wife in a crowded tenement.

Barnet, a former boxer and actor, places his comic punches with extraordinary timing and pacing, shifting tone and narrative direction with deft sleight-of-camera virtuosity. Opening expository scenes of the apartment block (seen in a cut-away set of the stairwell) gradually coming to vivid early morning life is alone a masterpiece of farce direction.

He is translating into boisterous comic terms the turbulence of city life in the USSR, circa 1928, with its housing crisis, labor unions, its amateur agit-prop plays and workers parades, all of which the sweetfaced heroine (played by the delicious Vera Maretskaya) experiences with bemused big-heartedness.

The vagaries of film distribution until recently have kept from western audiences a rich part of the Soviet film heritage. If glasnost is the real thing, then Boris Barnet should become the posthumous ambassador of Slavic screen humour. His sly contagious laughter blows away the Iron Curtain.
- Len, Variety

Background tsdf
Barnet got his first big break in 1926, when he co-wrote and co-directed (with Theodore Otsep-Fedor Ozep) Miss Mend, a serialised adventure thriller in which he also has an acting role. After this Barnet directed a series of important films in which he showed a striking ability to embellish comedy, social commentary, and even tragedy with a light lyrical touch and witty observation of character and mores. Like Leo McCarey and Howard Hawks, the American directors which he most resembled, Barnet was not an intellectual, but created his best films (Girl with the Hat Box, House on Trubnaya, Outskirts, Secret Agent) with his heart and his sense of humour, his instinctive feel for people and the humorous side of their behaviour, rather than through the intellectual editing and directing techniques of his teacher Kuleshov - from whom he did, however acquire great skill in plotting and in staging action, athletics, and fight scenes.
- Steven P. Hill, Film Culture, Fall 1955

Boris Vasilievich Barnet was born in Moscow on 16 or 18 June 1902. He studied at the Moscow School of Art and Architecture before volunteering for the Red Army in 1919. After military service, he became a physical training instructor for the army, then took up professional boxing before becoming a director (but remained an occasional performer as well as scriptwriter on some of his films). He committed suicide in 1965.

Films slkdjfl
1926: Miss Mend (serial; co-dir). 1928: Devushka s korobkoi (The girl with the Hat Box/When Moscow Laughs), Moskva v Oktyabre (Moscow in October). 1928: Dom na Trubnoi (The House of Trubnaya). 1929: Ziva dila (Life Affairs) (short). 1930: Proizvodstvo muzykahnych instrumentov (Production of Musical Instruments) (short), Fortepiano (The Piano) (short). 1931: Prividenya, Ledolom (The Thaw). 1933: Okraina (Patriots/The Outskirts). 1934: Adin i dysatch (One and Ten) (co-dir.). 1936: U samova sinevo morya (By the Bluest of Seas) (co-dir.). 1939: Noch y Sentyabre (A Night in September). 1941: Muzestvo (Manhood) (short). 1942: Bescennaja golova (A Priceless Head) (short). 1943: Novgorodnii (Men of Novgorod) (short). 1945: Odnazhdi Noch (One Night/Dark Is The Night). 1947: Podvig razvedchika (The Scout's Exploits/Secret Agent). 1948: Stanitsy zhizn (Pages of Life) (co-dir.). 1951: Schedroye Leto (Bountiful Summer). 1952: Kontsert masterov Ukrainskovo iskusstva (Concert of the Masters of Ukrainian Art). 1955: Liana. 1957: The Poet, Borets i kloun (The Wrestler and the Clown) (co-dir.). 1959: Staryi Nayezhdnik (The Old Horseman) (made 1940), Annushka. 1962: Alenka. 1963: Polunstanok (Whistle Stop).

The House of Trubnaya is presented with organ accompaniment by Bruce Ardley.
Print courtesy of BFI Distribution, London. Restored by the National Film Archive, London.

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