Beginning of an Unknown Century (1967), Larisa Shepitko and Andrei Smirnov

Beginning of an Unknown Century (1967), Larisa Shepitko and Andrei Smirnov

Beginning of an Unknown Century, a two-part omnibus film, was commissioned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution. Deemed too pessimistic by Brezhnev’s censors, the film was immediately shelved as soon as it was completed, and was only shown for the first time in 1987 over twenty years later during Gorbachev’s glastnost.

The film is made up of two out of three episodes, the third remains lost but boasts fragments from two of the Thaw’s most talented Russian film directors.  

Andrei Smirnov’s episode Angel is a story of everyday heroism and brutality during the Civil War years of the 1920s. It follows a group of refugees of different political views who are fleeing the conflict. Their train is derailed and they are then captured and brutalised by avenging white bandits.

In Larisa Shepitko’s Homeland of Electricity a young mechanic is sent to a famine-stricken village in order to bring electricity to the people. The striking black-and-white visuals of this film are frequently compared to the works of Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Shepitko’s teacher at famed Russian film school, VGIK. Homeland of Electricity is one of only four surviving films by Larisa Shepitko, widely acknowledged now as one of Russia’s most masterful female film directors. 

Francine Stock

Presenter, Film Programme, BBC Radio 4

Francine joined the BBC in 1983 as a producer, and has presented various documentaries and discussion programmes since then. In 2005, she became chair of the Tate Members Council and in 2007 she was elected as the first female Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. She has published several novels, including A Foreign Country (1999) and Man-Made Fibre (2002).

Adapted from Andrei Platonov’s story, Shepitko’s vision of famine in Communism’s early years has an epic grandeur that never dwarfs the vivid depiction of the villagers, whom hunger has rendered almost ethereal.

Francine Stock

Presenter, Film Programme, BBC Radio 4

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