Marina Razbezhkina’s Harvest Time uses nostalgia as more of an emotional than intellectual device, looking back fondly—if still somewhat critically—at a hardship-wracked collective farming family in the Soviet Union of 1950. Narrated in hindsight (and from the great beyond) by the clan’s youngest child Vanya (Dmitri Yakovlev), documentarian Razbezhkina’s debut fictional feature assumes a perspective of wistful childhood memory, focusing specifically on the deterioration of combine operator Antonina (Lyudmila Motornaya) after her superlative field work is rewarded by the Party with a prized red velvet banner adorned with the faces of Bolshevik Revolution leaders. Because her beloved husband (Vyacheslav Batrakov) has returned from WWII a legless drunkard, the burden of supporting kids Ivan (Dmitri Yermakov) and Vanya rests solely on Antonina’s shoulders, a load that’s compounded by her jealousy regarding her philandering spouse, the pressure of trying to live up to her esteemed professional honor, and the stress of protecting the banner from hungry mice. The film’s intimate and affectionate portrait of daily customs (meal preparation, storytelling and singing, acrobatic games) is infused with a sense of the simple rural paganism that defined such cog-in-the-wheel lives, and a subtle understanding of how those faiths were compatible with the era’s new collectivist belief system. Harvest Time‘s most obvious corollary is Dovshenko’s Earth, with Razbezhkina’s lyrical tribute to the good ol’ socialist days characterized by man’s intrinsic (harmonious and tense) relationship to the environment and its animal inhabitants, as well as an understated melancholy over the passing of the period’s spirit. The director’s verité touches (newsreel footage, still photos) bring weight to the action’s atmosphere of magic realism, which is otherwise crafted with an entrancing blend of contrast-heavy compositions, forlorn close-ups of Motornaya, and dialogue that echoes as if being filtered from a hollow, distant place. “I don’t remember anyone,” says Vanya over the opening montage of snapshots, a personal instance of forgetfulness that Harvest Time—via a present-day coda in which a strange girl casually dons Antonina’s treasured banner as a head scarf—eventually, and judgmentally, marries to the contemporary generation’s political-historical lack of awareness.
Kino's full frame transfer would benefit from deeper black levels and sharper contrast, as well as a bit more image stability-on more than one occasion, the picture distractingly flutters. Otherwise, though, it's a functional video presentation, matched by an equally decent but unexceptional stereo track.
A skimpy photo gallery is all that's included.
A pensive, potent remembrance of collectivism past.