Director and screenwriter Alexander Zarkhi, one of the last surviving figures from the heyday of Soviet cinema, who was best known for a series of films made in the 1930s and 1940s in collaboration with fellow director Iosif Kheifits, died in Moscow Jan. 27. He was 89.
Alexander Grigorievich Zarkhi was born in Moscow Feb. 18, 1908, and was awarded the title National Artist of the Soviet Union in 1969, and Hero of Socialist Labor in 1978. He was buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery on Feb. 3.
Zarkhi graduated in 1927 from the Technical Academy of Cinema Art in Leningrad, the city where he would work for the next 20 years. Early work as a screenwriter included ”The Moon From the Left” (1929) and ”Transport of Fire” (1930).
His first collaboration with Kheifits was the 1935 lyrical comedy ”Hot Money,” but it was their second work, ”Baltic Deputy” (1937), which earned them huge popular and official acclaim. Set in St. Petersburg in 1917, it told the story of how a prominent Russian scientist accepted the Bolshevik revolution as a positive force, with a brilliant central performance from actor Nikolai Cherkasov, who would later play the roles of Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible for Eisenstein. ”Baltic Deputy” won the Grand Prize at the 1937 Paris Intl. Exhibition, as well as a State Prize in 1941.
Zarkhi and Kheifits’ next collaboration, ”Member of the Government” (1940), was no less successful, and became the classic Soviet film of its era about the positive role of women in society. Actress Vera Maretskaya played the central role of an ordinary woman who rises to become a collective farm chairman and later deputy of the Supreme Soviet.
During World War II, Zarkhi and Kheifits directed two patriotic films, ”He Is Called Sukhe-Bator” (1941), about the Mongolian war of resistance, and ”Malakhov-Kurgan” (1944). Zarkhi’s documentary film ”The Defeat of Japan” (1945) won the director a second State Prize.
Zarkhi’s last collaboration with Kheifits was ”In the Name of Life” (1947), after which he worked for five years at Belarusfilm in Minsk, adapting a number of dramatic classics for the screen, and then moved to Moscow, where he filmed his psychological masterpiece ”Height” at Mosfilm in 1957.
In his later films, Zarkhi turned increasingly to the classics, and he is best known for his 1968 adaptation of Tolstoy’s ”Anna Karenina” and for his 1981 film ”26 Days in the Life of Dostoyevsky.” Other films included ”Cities and Years” (1974) and ”Story of an Unknown Actor” (1977).