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THE LAST BOLSHEVIK

France / UK / Finland, 1993 (MIFF 1994, Documentaries)

Director: Chris Marker

The Last Bolshevik opens with the contention that it is not the literal past that hold us in thrall, but the images of that past.

An intelligent and inspiring filmmaker, Chris Marker (Sans Soleil, Tokyo Days) investigates the life of Soviet director Alexander Medvedkin, who was a prolific provider of such images. Anyone familiar with Marker's brilliant essay films will know that this seemingly straightforward premise is merely the starting point for a kaleidoscope of eclectic associations, truly illuminating excursions through cultural aesthetics, politics and a personal poetry of ideas.

Medvedkin was born with the century in 1900 and just predeceased the Soviet Union in 1989. Using the structure of six supposed 'letters' to the director - combining archival footage, interviews with those who remember him, his recently discovered surviving early works, and parallels drawn between his life and that of other prominent Soviet figures - much of film examines the Soviet state's own dealing in images, from the 1920 street theatre re-enactment of the storming of the Winter Palace, through Eisenstein's creation of history in The Battleship Potemkin and October, to the deconstruction in 1991, not just of the system but of its statuary and other visual signifiers. From Medvedkin's Film Train project, in the now legendary 30s experiment in agit-prop collective cinema production, to his starkly comic features (Such A Happiness) and his post Stalin show trials era satirical documentaries, to the uncertainties of contemporary Russia, Marker draws together his interpretive threads to forge an epistolary composition of a man and an entire historical milieu.

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