Review: ‘Once at Night’

This 1944 Sovfilm was assumed lost until its discovery in an archive last year. Simply mounted but compelling patriotic melodrama should draw a season of bookings on the cinematheque circuit.

This 1944 Sovfilm was assumed lost until its discovery in an archive last year. Simply mounted but compelling patriotic melodrama should draw a season of bookings on the cinematheque circuit.

Kinetic opening montage shows a Red Air Force plane crashing in an Armenian village occupied by Nazi forces. Its three soldiers are secreted in a bombed-out school’s attic by young student Varia, who stays on to clean the facility downstairs for Nazi-headquarters use. One of the wounded men dies, another escapes; Varia risks her life protecting the third. Close has Russian army reclaiming terrain as the soldier who’d gotten away assures traumatized Varia — i.e., Mother Russia — that “you will be avenged. They will pay for everything.”

Film was veteran helmer Boris Barnet’s next-to-last project; he also plays a Nazi collaborator. Despite some odd narrative gaps (and one bizarre sequence in which Varia distracts attention from her hidden comrades by operatically trilling a song, with full orchestral accompaniment), pic effects a visceral edge from location shooting and economical presentation. Depiction of ruthless occupiers is brutal at times. One especially stirring scene takes place in a dark circus arena, where assembled villagers refuse to comply with Nazi demands.

There and elsewhere, director Barnet manages some arresting, shadow-laden imagery. Lead actress Irina Radchenko’s resemblance to Lillian Gish is underlined by her occasionally over-mannered waif histrionics.

The pristine print (discovered by Russian film scholar Naum Kleiman, an honoree at this year’s S.F. fest) arrived late for subtitling; though voiceover translation was provided, dialogue is minimal.

Once at Night

(RUSSIAN -- B&W)

Production

An Erevan Studio production. Directed by Boris Barnet. Screenplay, Fedor Knorre (from his story and play).

Crew

Camera (b&w), Stepan Gevorkyan; production design, S. Safaryan, Y. Erzinkyan, A, Arutchan; sound, Y. Grigoryan. Reviewed at the AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, May 2, 1994. (In S.F. Intl. Film Festival.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

With: Irina Radchenko, Boris Adreiev, Ivan Kaznetsov, Boris Barnet.
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