Farewell: A Tribute to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko

Farewell A Tribute to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko

 

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There’s something of an ill-fated air surrounding the films of the Russian directors Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko, which remain mostly unknown in Western circles (though rumor has it Steven Spielberg cited Klimov’s Come and See as a major influence on Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). Indeed, I write this introduction having never seen a single one of their works, which makes the upcoming Film Society of Lincoln Center retrospective, running from May 19th - May 30th, 2006 (for a full schedule of films and ticketing information click here), all the more fortuitous and appreciated. Both Klimov and Shepitko were students at the State Film Institute (VGIK) in the years that produced such varied members of the Russian New Wave as Andrei Tarkovsky, Andrei Konchalovsky, and Kira Muratova. Klimov, whose first name was derived as an acronym of Engels, Lenin, and Marx, apprenticed under Efim Dzigan, while Shepitko was the protégé of Aleksandr Dovzhenko. By most accounts, the duo were relatively cool toward one another (she more so than he) until Shepitko fell dangerously ill on the set of her graduation film Heat and called in Klimov to help complete it. They fell in love and married soon after, becoming something of a power couple among the Moscow film intelligentsia. Both would go on to make very few features as they were typically hamstrung by the Soviet government’s censorious attitudes and frequent changes of the guard. And tragedy struck in 1979 when Shepitko, who had recently won the Berlin Golden Bear for her film The Ascent, was killed in a car accident while working on an adaptation of Valentin Rasputin’s novella Farewell to Matyora—as he did those many years before, a grieving Klimov stepped in and completed the film for her. Klimov soldiered on, eventually becoming the first secretary of the revamped, Gorbachev-era Soviet Filmmakers’ Union, a position he held for two years. Two of his never-realized dream projects were adaptations of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Devils and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but toward the end of his life—he died in October of 2003—Klimov was quoted as saying, “I’ve lost interest in making films. Everything that was possible I felt I had already done. I think of lines written by Andrei Platonov to his wife, ’Toward the impossible our souls fly.’” What then remains but to seek out, explore and ponder the fruits of Klimov and Shepitko’s impossible labors? To this end, we might consider the title of Klimov’s final film to be the duo’s jointly resonant last command: Come and See. Keith Uhlich

Reviews: Welcome, or No Trespassing, Agony, Larisa, The Homeland of Electricity, and Come and See