The Film Club is a homage to cinema. Every month the team at The Calvert Journal selects a favourite Russian movie, from a classic of Soviet cinema or a groundbreaking documentary to the latest short by a new young director. Lights down please.
In the mid-1920s, a time when Soviet directors such as Sergei Eisenstein were churning out films that glorified the communist regime, another lesser-known filmmaker was striking out on his own. Abram Room sought to bring a new veracity to Soviet cinema and in 1925 published a manifesto distinguishing the art of filmmaking from the theatre. “Cinema is pre-eminently realism, life, the everyday, objectivity, properly motivated behaviour,” he wrote. “If we had to characterise theatre and cinema in simple terms we should have to say: theatre is ‘seeming’ whereas cinema is ‘being’.”
The result was a series of films, most notably Bed and Sofa (1927), which focused on bringing psychological realism to cinema. Bed and Sofa tells the story of Volodya, a young man who travels to Moscow in search of employment. With nowhere to live, he stays on the sofa of an old army friend, Kolya, and his wife Liudmila. It isn’t long before Volodya and Liudmila embark on an affair and the three settle into a ménage à trois with Kolya moving to the sofa. When Liudmila falls pregnant, both men assume she will have an abortion. Sitting in the waiting room of the abortion clinic, however, she decides at the very last minute to keep the baby and leave both men.
In 1920, Russia became the first country in the world to legalise abortion under any circumstances. Although it was outlawed in 1936 to encourage larger families, it was legalised again in 1955 and soon became the main form of birth control. By the late Soviet Union, more than three-quarters of women had had at least one abortion. By 2012, this figure dropped considerably to around 50 abortions for every 100 live births, still more than double that in western Europe. In her recent black-and-white documentary, I Will Forget This Day (2010), Alina Rudnitskaya captures that very same crucial moment as Room, but in an abortion clinic in present-day Russia. The static, distant camera films women in the bleak waiting room of the clinic as they await their turn, their faces reflecting the desperation of the situation.