From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.
Around 1950, after seeing his own ideas rejected time and again, the great Soviet director Alexander Dovzhenko undertook this grotesque piece of kitsch, which was inspired by the defection of U.S. journalist Annabelle Bucard after she discovered that the U.S. embassy in Moscow, where she worked, was a nest of spies. Dovzhenko’s script went through countless drafts, and when Stalin terminated the project (for reasons that are still obscure), the director learned the news only when the electricity was abruptly shut off on the soundstage where he was working. The film was finally released in 1995, with commentary on the missing pieces and material about its arduous birth, and it’s morbidly fascinating as an example of Stalinist filmmaking (Dovzhenko’s style is nowhere in evidence). Considering the director’s stature, the most depressing aspects of this are that even the commentator isn’t sure whether it’s sincere and that ultimately it doesn’t matter much. In Russian with subtitles. 73 min. (JR)