Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Soviet Children's Cinema 1: A Childish Film

Over the course of the next few days, I'm hoping to watch as many Soviet children's films as possible.

The shower sequence in a video still taken from a Kultura broadcast of The Foundling (1939)

Was The Foundling made by a child? Or maybe edited by one? The film is childish in the most beautiful sense of the word. It's like a grade schooler retelling a joke: details are stretched out, punchlines are mangled.
It's a reversal of the adult rules of comic order. A broken shower head commands our attention more than the mess it causes all over the bathroom walls or the people it worries; a traffic cop is shown repeatedly stopping a man from crossing the street in a rambling take. Scenes are played as if the previous ones have already been forgotten. It's small but ungainly, compact yet in over its head. Shot lengths, speeds and reaction shots seem out of scale. There are physical discrepancies within the frame, too: a short, pudgy woman argues with a lanky man; a tiny girl stands beside a balloon vendor with stilt-like legs; a long, narrow carpet runs treacherously through the hallway of a communal apartment (an early shot features a boy instinctively untangling it with his foot); a young soldier, whose gigantic hands and jutting chin bring together everything that can seem awkward about the human body, crouches wordlessly beside two young girls.
The children in the film speak too slow and too fast, repeat themselves and fidget. They tug at clothes, stand together uncomfortably in the frame and speak with an earnest seriousness amongst themselves. They act like children without consciously attempting to channel "childishness."

Barely over an hour long and ending with a lullaby, The Foundling can be found unsubtitled here.

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