During its 70-year existence, the U.S.S.R. produced more than its fair share of heavyweight dramas (The Cranes Are Flying), stirring biopics (Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II), visually impressive documentaries (Salt for Svanetia) and groundbreaking science fiction think pieces (Aelita, Queen of Mars). What Soviet cinema isn’t known for is its romantic comedies or bedroom farces — indeed, with the prominent exception of Lev Kuleshov’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), one is hard-pressed to think of any Soviet comedies.
1927’s Tretya Meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa, screening at Pacific Film Archive as part of the series ‘In Focus: Eisenstein and His Contemporaries’ at 3:10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7) offers proof that the Soviets were just as capable of blending socialist realism with comedy as they were with any other genre. It’s also a reminder that the Russian Revolution provided Soviet women with certain choices decades before those choices were made available to women in the “free world.”
Married couple Kolia (Nikolay Batalov) and Liuda (Lyudmila Semyonova) live in Moscow, where he works as construction foreman at the Bolshoi Theater while she, somewhat grudgingly, attempts (with decidedly mixed results) to be a good housewife. Kolia’s old army buddy Volodia (Vladimir Fogel) has just arrived in the city to begin a new job at the Workers’ Newspaper and is in need of lodgings.
It seems like a perfect arrangement: Volodia will contribute towards the rent, work nights, and sleep on the sofa while Kolia is at his day job. Volodia expresses concern that people will talk if he spends his days alone with Liuda, but Kolia is unconcerned: why would his loyal wife be tempted by another man when she’s already married to perfection itself?
Kolia is, of course, about to be proven wrong. When ‘Friends of Aviators Day’ rolls around in July (as, of course, it does every July), Volodia and Liuda take a day trip to the nearest aerodrome, where — one thrilling airplane ride later — the two begin to fall for each other.
The relationship develops, the cuckolded Kolia eventually finds himself relegated to the sofa, and further complications arise when Liuda discovers she’s pregnant. With the responsible party impossible to identify, the film takes a serious turn before ending on a strikingly modern note that will both surprise and delight contemporary viewers.
Beautifully shot by G. Giber in best socialist realist style – there are quick cuts and montage sequences aplenty, as well as lengthy scenes at Kolia and Volodia’s workplaces – Bed and Sofa is an unexpected delight. A lecture by Professor Anne Nesbet follows the screening.
‘Beuys’ introduces us to the fascinating Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys took the mid-20th century art world by storm with such outré pieces as ‘The Pack’ (a collection of 40 sleds bearing rolls of carpet) and ‘Felt Piano’ (a piano covered in, um, felt), but has largely been forgotten since his death in 1986. The documentary Beuys (opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Friday, March 9 and screening at PFA on the same day at 4 p.m.) raises the profile of this unique gentleman, a fedora-wearing World War II Luftwaffe veteran whose life goal was the democratization of the arts. Trigger warning: segments of Beuy’s infamous ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’ are featured.