Commissar (film)

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Commissar poster.jpg
Film poster (1987)
Directed by Aleksandr Askoldov
Written by Aleksandr Askoldov
Based on "In the Town of Berdichev"
by Vasily Grossman
Starring Nonna Mordyukova
Music by Alfred Shnitke
Cinematography Valeri Ginzburg
Release dates
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  • 1967 (1967)
Running time
110 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian

Commissar (Russian: Комиссар, translit. Komissar) is a 1967 Soviet film based on one of Vasily Grossman's first short stories, "In the Town of Berdichev" (В городе Бердичеве). The main characters were played by two People's Artists of the USSR, Rolan Bykov and Nonna Mordyukova. Made at Gorky Film Studio.

Maxim Gorky considered this brief story one of the best about the Russian Civil War and encouraged the young writer to dedicate himself to literature. It also drew favorable attention from Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pilnyak, and Isaac Babel.[1]

History of the film

It was shot in the political climate of the post-Khrushchev Thaw. From the outset of the production, Goskino censors forced the film director Aleksandr Askoldov to make major changes; 1967 was the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution and the events were to be presented in the Communist Party-mandated style of heroic realism.

After making the film, Askoldov lost his job, was expelled from the Communist Party, charged with social parasitism, exiled from Moscow, and banned from working on feature films for life. He was told that the single copy of the film had been destroyed.[2] Mordyukova and Bykov, major Soviet movie stars, had to plead with the authorities to spare him of even bigger charges. The film was shelved by the KGB for twenty years.

In 1986, due to glasnost policies, the Conflict Commission of the Soviet Film-makers Union recommended the re-release of the movie, but Goskino refused to act. After a plea from Askoldov at the Moscow Film Festival, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union was imminent,[citation needed] the film was reconstructed and finally released in 1988. The film is set in Ukraine, and those who know the language will spot the Ukrainisms in Bykov's lines.

The film won the Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival in 1988,[3] four professional Nika Awards (1989), including one to composer Alfred Schnittke, and other awards. The film was selected as the Soviet entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 61st Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[4]


DVD cover

During the Russian Civil War (1918–1922), a female commissar of the Red Army cavalry Klavdia Vavilova (Nonna Mordyukova) finds herself pregnant. Until her child is born, she is forced to stay with the family of a poor Jewish blacksmith Yefim Magazannik (Rolan Bykov), his wife, mother-in-law, and six children. At first, both the Magazannik family and "Madame Vavilova", as they call her, are not enthusiastic about living under one roof, but soon they share their rationed food, make her civilian clothes, and help her with the delivery of her newborn son. Vavilova seemingly embraces motherhood, civilian life, and new friends.

Meanwhile, the frontline advances closer to the town and the Jews expect a pogrom by the White Army as the Red Army retreats. Vavilova attempts to console them with a Communist dream: "One day people will work in peace and harmony", but the dream is interrupted with a vision of the fate of the Jews in the coming world war. She rushes to the front to rejoin her army regiment, leaving her newborn behind.


See also


  1. Vasily Grossman, tr. Robert Chandler et al., The Road (Random House, 2010: ISBN 1-59017-361-9), p. 8.
  3. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  4. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

External links