Review: ‘Hammer and Sickle’

The promising subject of a sex change accomplished under the Stalinist regime is given the embalming treatment in "Hammer and Sickle." Handsomely produced but deadly dull, second pic by Russian helmer Sergei Livnev had every chance for commercial notoriety but emerges as the most marginal of fest entries.

The promising subject of a sex change accomplished under the Stalinist regime is given the embalming treatment in “Hammer and Sickle.” Handsomely produced but deadly dull, second pic by Russian helmer Sergei Livnev had every chance for commercial notoriety but emerges as the most marginal of fest entries.

Story stems from an assertion by the filmmakers that, in the ’30s, Stalin endorsed the idea of sex-change operations for the purpose of providing more soldiers for the motherland. Result of what seems to have been the first attempt is Yevdokim Kumetsov (Alexei Serebryakov), a coldly stunning Aryan type with an uncanny resemblance to Dolph Lundgren. Dialogue makes a point of how the subject received no hormone injections, but doesn’t bother explaining medical details of how he managed to acquire a deep voice, highly developed muscles and the ability to have sex.

Latter occurs in short order, but there’s no attention paid to the event’s landmark status in the history of sexuality. Rather, the lead doctor declares that he has decided that toying with gender is against socialist principles, thereby seeming to leave Yevdokim out to dry.

Instead, pic jumps ahead to 1936, when the young man is decorated for his work in building the Moscow subway. Matched with a high-achieving woman, with whom he adopts an orphaned Spanish girl, he and his mate become the models for a giant heroic statue. They lead a pampered life until a ridiculous scene in which Yevdokim throttles Stalin himself before being shot and ironically transformed into a national hero.

Neither narrative nor motivation is very clear in this fanciful recounting of an aberrant diversion from Stalinist orthodoxy.

Visually, Livnev obviously aspires to an evocation of 1930s fascism in the Bertolucci/Scarfiotti/Storaro manner, with elegant decor, costumes and lighting representing a highly ordered, repressive society. But his somnambulistic pacing and inability to engage the viewer in his curious story leaves the film utterly wanting as drama, allegory, political commentary or sensationalism.

Hammer and Sickle

(RUSSIAN)

Production

An L Film Studio production. (International sales: L Film, Moscow.) Produced , directed by Sergei Livnev. Screenplay, Vladimir Valutsky, Livnev.

Crew

Camera (color), Sergei Matchilski; editor, Alla Strelnikova; music, Leonid Desjatnikov; art direction, Elena Dobrashkus; sound, Leonid Veytkov, Gleb Kravetsky. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 9, 1994. (Also in Palm Springs fest.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

With: Alexei Serebryakov, Evdokija Germanova, Alla Klyuka, Avangard Leontjev.
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