Larisa Shepitko - Director

Nationality: Russian. Born: Armtervosk, Eastern Ukraine, 1938 (some sources list 1939); first name sometimes spelled "Larissa." Family: Married film director Elem Klimov. Education: Studied with Alexander Dovzhenko at, and graduated from, the VGIK (State Film Institute). Career: Began assisting Yulia Solntseva, Alexander Dovzhenko's widow, in making Poem of the Sea , based on Dovzhenko's writings, 1956; directed the short films The Blind Cook and Living Water and the diploma feature Heat while at film school, early 1960s; a retrospective of her work presented at the Berlin Film Festival, where she was a member of the jury, 1978. Awards: Second Prize, Venice Film Festival, for Ti I Ya ( You and I ), 1971; Golden Bear, OCIC Award, FIPRESCI Award, and Interfilm Award Special Mention, Berlin International Film Festival, for Voshojdenie ( The Ascent ), 1977. Died: In a car accident near Moscow, July 1979.

Films as Director:


The Blind Cook (short)


Living Water (short)


Znoy ( Heat ) (co-sc)


Krylya ( Wings )


Ti I Ya ( You and I ) (co-sc)


Voshojdenie ( Kodiyettom ; The Ascent ) (co-sc)


The Homeland of Electricity ( Rodina Electrichestva ) (short; filmed in 1967 and released with Angel , a short directed by Andrei Smirnov, as The Beginning of an Unknown Century )

Other Films:


Sport, Sport, Sport (Klimov), (ro)


Proschanie s Matyoroy ( Farewell ; Farewell to Matyora ) (Klimov) (script concept)


By SHEPITKO: articles—

"Sotnikov ni e nuzhen i dnes," in Kinoizkustvo (Sofia, Bulgaria), September 1977.

Vieira Marques, J. and M. Martin, "Entretien avec Larisa Shepitko," in Ecran (Paris), 15 March 1978.

Shepitko, Larisa and F. von Nostitz, "Obazana pered soboi i pered liudmi," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 1, 1988.

On SHEPITKO: articles—

Elley, Derek, "Hiding It under a Bushel," in Films & Filming (London), March 1974.

Karakhan, L., "Krutoi put Voskhozh deniia ," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 10, 1976.

"Director Larisa Shepitko and Her New Film, The Ascent ," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 4, 1977.

"Four Directors So Respected They Can Evade Soviet 'Oversight'," in Variety (New York), 11 May 1977.

Simon, John, "Berlin Stories," in New York Magazine , 25 July 1977.

"Six Top Soviet Directors," in Variety (New York), 24 August 1977.

Kovic, B., "Pogovor z Larissa Shepitko," in Ekran (Yugoslavia), no. 5/6, 1978.

Herlinghaus, R., "Fuer Larisa Shepitko," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), no. 8, 1979.

Obituary in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 12. 1979.

Obituary in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 50, 1979.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 25 July 1979.

Obituary in Ecran (Paris), 15 September 1979.

Nemes, K., "Larisza Sepityko 1938–1979," in Filmkultura (Buda-pest), September/October 1979.

Obituary in Bianco e Nero (Rome), September/December 1979.

Obituary in Cinéma 79 (Paris), November 1979.

Zemanova, Z, "Nespokojena maximalistka Larisa Shepitko," in Film a Doba (Prague), June 1982.

Pawlak, E., "W kregu pytan ostatecznych," in Kino (Warsaw), June 1983.

Abreu, T.G., "Ascension y permanencia de Larisa Shepitko," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 109, 1984.

Duarte, F., and M.F. Reis, "Larisa Chepitko (1938–1979): Ascensao ," in Celuloide (Portugal), October/November/December 1984.

Rosenberg, Karen, "Shepitko," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 2, 1987.

"Ohjaajat ja valvojat," in Filmihulli (Helsinki), no. 6, 1988.

Quart, Barbara, "Between Materialism and Mysticism: The Films of Larisa Shepitko," in Cineaste (New York), no. 3, 1988.

"Manchmal schwieg die Kritik," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), no. 1, 1989.

Holloway, Ron, "Larisa Shepitko: Her Life and Films," in Cinema in India (Bombay), no. 2, 1990.

Wilmington, Michael, "A Chance to View Art of Shepitko," in Chicago Tribune (Chicago), 12 September 1996.

On SHEPITKO: film—

Larisa , tribute directed by Elem Klimov, 1980.

* * *

Barely two years after her greatest international triumph—winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for The Ascent —Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko tragically died in an automobile accident. The Soviet cinema thus prematurely lost one of the major talents of its post-war generation, and the international film community was robbed of one of its emerging—and potentially most significant—creative lights. Shepitko and her work pretty much have remained unknown and ignored in North America, despite a small but fervent cult of admirers (including Martin Scorsese and Stan Brakhage).

Shepitko's films are visually stunning, and loaded with images that eloquently communicate her characters' deepest feelings, concerns, and conflicts. They also are linked in that their settings are such disparate physical extremes as snow-covered landscapes, arid deserts, and rugged wastelands. Nature itself presents a threat to human life, with the basics of survival often the primary challenge for her characters.

Furthermore, relationships in Shepitko's films mostly are strained. Characters have their own personal visions and opposing views on key issues. While her first films explore clear-cut political questions within Soviet society, her work evolved to deal more with moral and ideological concerns. Ultimately, her films reflect on the use of cinema as a means of exploring such issues—and, accordingly, serve as expressions of the essence of the human spirit.

In her all-too-short life—she was 40 years old when she died—Shepitko directed just four features. Her first, Heat , was her diploma work for the VGIK state film school, and was completed when she was 24 years old. It is set during the 1950s, on a small collective farm in the USSR's arid central Asian territory of Kirghizia, where two males from different generations quarrel over the manner in which agricultural procedures may be used to modernize the farm. This crisply directed film is especially successful in connecting its characters to their parched surrounding.

Wings , which Shepitko made three years later, examines the friction between Russians who survived World War II and their offspring. Its main character is a fabled female fighter pilot who has difficulty reconciling her past with her present job as a school administrator. She is entering middle age, her lone true love died in the war, and her memories of the war at once fill her thoughts and adversely affect her present-day relationships with her students and adopted daughter. From a political perspective, Wings is a provocative depiction of a character who views collectivism and obligation as the backbone of the Soviet Union and is troubled by what she perceives as an increase in individualism among the younger generation. Adding resonance to the story is the fact that she is neither a Stalinist heavy nor a well-intentioned visionary, but rather an alltoo-human being who is attempting to clarify her present-day identity and follow her convictions. You and I is a companion piece to Wings in that its main character, a brain surgeon, has come to question his role in society and the significance of his life and work. For this reason, he leaves his job and family and sets out on a soul-searching odyssey through Siberia. Both You and I and Wings are noteworthy as probing looks at moral dilemmas facing then-contemporary Soviet society.

Finally, The Ascent , Shepitko's masterwork, is a chilling drama about honor and corruption, devotion and duplicity, and human endurance under the most trying conditions. It is set during a snowy, dreary World War II winter in Byelorussia, the provincial Soviet region then controlled by the occupying Germans. The three pivotal characters are individuals who each must achieve a personal reconciliation as they fathom the meaning of their accountability while struggling to endure the bloodshed in their midst. The first is a German-speaking Russian—whose profession, ironically, is that of a schoolteacher—who collaborates with the enemy and toils as a torturer of his fellow citizens. The other two are partisans. The first gutlessly attempts to save himself by sacrificing his comrade; the second heroically refuses to cave into his captors' pressure and comes to view his imminent demise on a religious-mystical level, as a sacrifice in the wake of society's horrors. Among the other characters are a trio of innocents sentenced to death for allegedly favoring the partisans.

In July 1979, while driving to Moscow after looking over locations for her next film, Shepitko and four of her crew members lost their lives in an automobile accident. The film, which ironically was to be titled Farewell , was completed by Shepitko's husband, director Elem Klimov—who also filmed a documentary homage to her, titled Larisa. That Shepitko's star was ascending on the international film scene is unquestionable. For this reason alone, her premature death is especially heartbreaking.

—Rob Edelman

User Contributions:

Klara Varadi
I have recently seen The Ascent and am wondering whether Mr.Edelman has actually seen it as well. His depiction of the story is very inaccurate in many ways.

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