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SIFF 2008: Alexander Nevsky
Soviet Union, 1938
Review by Elena Goukassian
Posted June 28, 2008

     The final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival brought us the Soviet classic, Alexander Nevsky. The 1938 film, a collaboration between film director Sergei Eisenstein and composer Sergei Prokofiev, played at Benaroya Hall on a big screen, with the Seattle Symphony and Chorale performing the score.

     It was a very interesting and well thought-out production. The live orchestra really made the film come alive. The plot of the film is historical, involving Prince Alexander Nevsky, who became a hero of the Russian people and a saint in the Orthodox Church for defeating the Swedes at the Neva River in 1240 and the German crusaders at the battle on the frozen Lake Peipus in 1242. The film recounts the latter victory with great patriotism. A chorus of Russian soldiers sings again and again of the power of the Russian people and their undying love for the motherland.

     When the people of Novgorod are told that the invaders are coming, they take up arms immediately and call for their hero, Alexander Nevsky, to lead the way--despite protests from local aristocrats, who think they can buy their way out of a battle. In the end, the common people triumph over the evil foreign invaders. All the inherent patriotism and portrayal of the peasants as heroes made this film one of Josef Stalin’s favorites. It wasn’t by accident that Eisenstein and Prokofiev made the film so. Both of them had lived in the West and, in the eyes of the Bolsheviks, made friends with too many elitist westerners with their skewed opinions of the world. This film, in effect, served as a way for both the director and the composer to prove their loyalty to Mother Russia despite their travels.

     All political intrigue aside, Alexander Nevsky is very well-made. Prokofiev’s music flows seamlessly with the camera shots, changing direction with the rotating frames. Prokofiev and Eisenstein worked together on both the filmography and the accompanying music, creating both simultaneously instead of working the film angles to match a finished piece of music, or vice versa. This was one of the first times a director and composer had cooperated so intensely--and it shows.

     The production with the Seattle Symphony was great. Hearing the live orchestral and choral music created just the right mood for the film. I thought the combination of film and orchestra for Alexander Nevsky was a wonderful idea, creating an excellent finished product.




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