MAT - Film (Movie) Plot and Review


USSR, 1926

Director: Vsevolod I. Pudovkin

Production: Mezhrabpom-Russ.; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 90 minutes; length: 1800 meters, or 5906 feet. Released 11 October 1926. Re-released 1935, with musical soundtrack.

Scenario: Nathan Zarkhi, from the novel by Maxim Gorky; assistant directors: Mikhail Doller and V. Strauss; photography: Anatoli Golovnya; art director: Sergei Kozlovsky; music (1935): S. Blok.

Cast: Vera Baranovskaya ( Pelageya Vlasova, the mother ); A. Tchistyakova ( Vlasov, her husband ); Nikolai Batalov ( Pavel, her son ); Alexander Savitsky ( Isaika Gorbov, the foreman ); Ivan Koval-Samborsky ( Vesovshchikiv, Pavel's friend ); Anna Zemstova ( Anna, a girl student ); Vsevolod Pudovkin ( Police officer ); N. Vidonov ( Misha ).



Zarkhi, Nathan, Mother , in Mother and Earth , New York, 1973.


Korolevich, V., Vera Baranovskaya , Moscow, 1929.

Yezuitov, N., Poudouvkine, "Pouti Tvortchestva, Les Voies de la création ," Moscow, 1937.

Mariamov, A., Vsevolod Pudovkin , Moscow, 1952.

Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , London, 1960.

Schnitzer, Luda and Jean, Vsevolod Poudouvkine , Paris, 1966.

Amengual, Barthélemy, V. I. Poudouvkine , Lyons, 1968.

Dickinson, Thorold, and Catherine de la Roche, Soviet Cinema , New York, 1972.

Schnitzer, Luda and Jean, and Marcel Martin, editors, Cinema in Revolution: The Heroic Era of the Soviet Film , New York, 1973.

Dart, Peter, Pudovkin's Films and Film Theory , New York, 1974.

Cohen, Louis Harris, The Cultural-Political Traditions and Developments of the Soviet Cinema , New York, 1974.

Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Taylor, Richard, Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany , London, 1979.

Leyda, Jay, An Index to the Creative Work of V.I. Pudovkin , New York, 1980.

Karaganov, Aleksandr Vasil'evich, Vsevolod Pudovkin , Moscow, 1983.

Masi, Stefano, Vsevolod I. Pudovkin , Florence, 1985.

Marshall, Herbert, Masters of the Soviet Cinema: Crippled Creative Biographies , London, 1985.


New York Times , 8 January 1928.

Close Up (London), October-November 1928 and January 1929.

Leyda, Jay, "Index to the Creative Work of Vsevolod Pudovkin," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1948.

Manvell, Roger, in Sight and Sound (London), August 1950.

"Pudovkin Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August-September 1953.

Weinberg, Herman, "Vsevolod Pudovkin," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1953.

"Pudovkin Issue" of Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), February 1973.

Stoianov-Bigor, G., in Kinoizkustvo (Sofia), July 1979.

Hudlin, E., "Film Language: Pudovkin and Eisenstein and Russian Formalism," in Journal of Aesthetic Education (Urbana, Illinois), no. 2, 1979.

Burns, P. E., "Linkage: Pudovkin's Classics Revisited," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C), Summer 1981.

Rubin, S.K., "Videotape Reviews," in Classic Images (Muscatine), no. 109, July 1984.

Dufour, Dirk, "!Revolutie? (4): Wolken doorheen de vlag," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 432, May 1993.

Kepley, Vance Jr., "Pudovkin, Socialist Realism, and the Classical Hollywood Style: Hollywood's Impact on Vsevolod Pudovkin's Film Making Style," in Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta), vol. 47, no. 4, Winter 1995.

* * *

Mother might rightfully be labelled Soviet propaganda. It is the story of a poor working-class woman at the time of the 1905 Revolution who, through her relationship with her worker son, becomes politicized. At first, she is oppressed, just another anonymous pawn of the power structure; at the finale she is exultant, a heroine and a martyr. However, the film is no boring treatise on the wonders of revolutionary spirit. Mother is a drama of love and conflict that can be universally understood and appreciated. In the scenario, based on a Maxim Gorky novel, a traditional theme—a mother's concern for her beloved son—may be stretched to fit into a propagandistic framework. But this fact does not obscure the heart-wrenching storyline and superior cinematic techniques of its maker, Vsevolod Illareonovitch Pudovkin.

Mother is Pudovkin's first feature produced on his own, independent of his colleagues at the State Film School. Here, under the tutelage of Lev Kuleshov, the filmmaker had defined and sharpened his cinematic grammar, and this film became his initial major achievement; he followed it a year later with The End of St. Petersburg and, thereafter with The Heir to Genghis-Khan . Mother , made when Pudovkin's relative inexperience prevented him from initially receiving adequate funding, is a superior example of the filmmaker's concern with camera angles, montage and editing. He and his cinematographer, Anatoli Golovnya, photographed the actors from every which angle: a military officer's self-importance would be conveyed by shooting him from below; the mother's early frustration would be emphasized by shooting her from above, and at the end, her triumph and liberation is highlighted by shooting from below. When Pudovkin places his camera in this position, the character's upper body and head seem further away, more inaccessible, reaching to the sky and towering over the viewer; when the actor is beneath the camera he becomes inferior, in that the viewer is literally looking down on him. Pudovkin does not shoot his performance straight on, as if he is recording a stage play. Mood and characterization are communicated in Mother not by the actor emoting before the camera; the performer is almost a passive participant in the filmmaking process.

Pudovkin believed that the manner and order in which pieces of film are spliced together can have the most powerful effect on the viewer. Mother is structured like a musical composition: a balance of action and reaction, seemingly disconnected shots—opposites, if you will—coming together to form a coherent whole. For example, the son receives some happy news while in prison. Instead of just editing in a simple reaction shot of his actor, Nikolai Batalov, Pudovkin combines shots of hands energetically in motion and a close-up of the bottom part of Batalov's face with scenes of a sun-lit stream, birds cavorting in a pond, and a happy child. Mother is a creative leap in the advancement of the editing process as an important filmmaking tool.

Pudovkin's individual images are, when contrasted to his cutting, relatively insignificant. But they are not uninteresting. One example: the mother visits the bier of her just-deceased husband. The filmmaker conveys a stark, sad mood by shooting only the dark shape of Vera Baranovskaya (who plays the role) casting an ominous shadow on the nearby grey wall, and a white sheet covering the body.

Pudovkin was also allegedly inspired by artists, painters and printmakers. The mother's characterization is modelled after the creations of Kathe Kollwitz, Picasso (especially the works of his Blue Period) and Degas. A sequence in a prison has its roots in Van Gogh's "Prison Courtyard." The film's influences are also literary: the trial scenes are based more on Tolstoy's Resurrection than in anything from the original source material.

Mother is expertly cast, from the actors playing mother and son (Baranovskaya and Batalov were recruited from the Moscow Art Theater) to the extras on screen for a split second. Pudovkin favored using non-actors in smaller roles, people whose real-life experience would provide a heightened sense of reality. In a sequence depicting the son's arrest after a search of his home, a former tsarist officer plays the colonel supervising the interrogation. After all, who else but an authentic career military man would know how to look the part of a professional soldier?

Interestingly, Mother might easily have been made by another director. Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky was initially assigned to direct the film, but was unable to cast the title role and even requested that scenarist Nathan Zarkhi transform her into a father. Finally, the project came to Pudovkin, who could never have worked independently within, or outside, the Soviet cinema establishment. His films are not pure works of art: Mother is similar to The End of St. Petersburg and The Heir to Genghis-Khan in that its motives are unabashedly political. Every great Russian film of the era, including Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin , Strike and October , are in some way linked to the Revolution. But Mother is the most personalized, and most poetic, of them all.

—Rob Edelman

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