Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review - The End of St. Petersburg

November 17, 2007

The End of St. Petersburg – 1927, Russia

Any movie that ends with the words Now is the time of Lenin has a decent chance of being dismissed simply as a piece of propaganda, and while The End of St. Petersburg is indeed propaganda, it is artistically structured and quite interesting to behold. Beginning in 1914, just before Russian Czar Nicholas II plunged Russia into World War I, the film begins with a sobering look at life in the former Soviet Union. In the countryside, a woman suddenly goes into labor. Her young son rushes to the fields to tell him father. Upon hearing the news, the man slowly rises, tells another man to keep working and then slowly follows his son, appearing to be in no great hurry. The woman gives birth to a baby girl, but the youngster’s arrival does not bring smiles or tears of joy. Another mouth to feed, the subtitle reads.

A moment later, a young, emotionally-beaten man goes to the city with his mother looking for work. He believes that a man from his village will get him a job at a factory that has just been awarded a government contract. The contract means money to the owners and investment opportunities for the rich; however, it means longer hours under terrible working conditions for the employees. Led by “the bald man,” the workers go on strike. Returning home, “the bald man” tells his young guest that he came at the wrong time and without any prospects or money, the young man is sent on his way. Defeated and lost, the young man meets up with a group of workers from another city who have been brought in to be replacement workers. The young man joins them, and he is even able to smile as he proudly heads off to what he thinks will be work. However, he and the other replacements are prevented from working by the striking workers, who have formed a human barricade to block the entrance to the factory. The young man starts to tell people that everything is the bald man’s fault, which captures the attention of management. Promising the man a guaranteed job, they get him to tell them where the bald man lives so that they can arrest him and end the strike.

The End of St. Petersburg is very much about influence that the wealthy and powerful have over the lives and fates of the poor. The owners of the factory can arbitrarily tell workers that they have to work longer, a police chief can beat a prisoner without fear of recourse, and poor men can be sent off to the battlefield to die as the wealthy stay home and make money off the war. In one scene, soldiers are told to prepare for battle, as traders back home stare at stock prices eagerly. As the soldiers charge into battle, the opening bell of the business day sounds, and businessmen rush to get in on the windfall that the war has brought them. To them, the war is a business opportunity, and the rising body count is of no consequence. It is no wonder that revolution is just around the corner.

The End of St. Petersburg is, at its heart, the story of two men, one who wants to find a way to make a living and the other who fights to ensure a better way to live. It is not surprising which character’s philosophy wins other the other. What is surprising is how emotional the journey is. As the bald man’s wife searches for her husband at the end of the film, she distributes food to all of the soldiers she sees, clearly believing that now there will be food for everyone. She holds the young soldier in her arms, forgiving him for betraying her husband. She walks through a beautiful cathedral, one that she is most likely beholding for the first time. Her hope is contagious, and her inner voice seems to speak for all of Russia. Yes, life is beautiful again; yes, hope has returned to the meek. Yes, glory and honor have returned, for now is the time of Lenin. See, it’s even got me saying it. (on DVD from Image-Entertainment)

3 and a half stars

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