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

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

On the occasion of March 8th, International Womens’ Day, Kino Klassika presents Larisa Shepitko and Andrei Smirnov’s omnibus film, Beginning of an Unknown Century.

The films were commissioned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution. The omnibus film, made up of three film stories by Russia’s most talented young directors were immediately shelved on completion.  Deemed too pessimistic by Brezhnev’s censors, they were only shown for the first time in 1987 over twenty years later. 

The film we see today is made up of two out of three episodes. The third remains lost. However, Angel and Homeland of Electricity are directed by two of the Brezhnev Thaw’s most talented 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 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. She is widely acknowledged as one of Russia’s most masterful female film directors. 

If a car accident in the summer of 1979 had not cut short the life of Larisa Shepitko, she would perhaps in her late 70s be enjoying an international reputation, maybe even on a par with Andrei Tarkovsky. Instead, only four features remain, along with shorts and this rarely glimpsed segment, Homeland of Electricity.  What’s apparent is that Shepitko was a filmmaker of extraordinary sensitivity, ambition and skill.

Francine Stock, introducing the film

Ian Christie

Ian Christie

Presenter, Film Programme, BBC Radio 4

Ian Christie is Anniversary Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck College and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the co-curator of our exhibition at GRAD Unexpected Eisenstein. He co-curated Eisenstein: His Life and Art (Oxford Museum of Modern Art/Hayward Gallery, 1988). Ian also co-edited Eisenstein Rediscovered (1993) and The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896-1939 (1988). He is the author of monographs on Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and Martin Scorsese.

Read Francine’s Programme Note for ‘A World to Win: Revolution on Screen’

To read Francine Stock’s programme note on Beginning of an Unknown Century, please download our catalogue: A World to Win: A Century of Revolution on Screen, curated by Ian Christie, Maria Korolkova and Justine Waddell. This catalogue also includes programme notes by Academy Award winning director Bernardo Bertolucci, Academy Award winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton and Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw.

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