Anton Čexov in Soviet Film Criticism of the Thaw

Marina Madorskaya, University of Michigan

The relationship of Čexov and Soviet film criticism begins at the end of the 1950s, with the emergence of new trends in filmmaking and film criticism under Xruščev’s Thaw.

Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, Soviet cinema goes through several marked stages of ideological and stylistic change. The first significant shift occurs on the level of characterization. As J. Woll observes in her book Soviet Cinema and the Thaw, as early as in 1954, characters, while still confined within Socialist Realist plots, begin to make independent decisions without the intervention of party members or a strong Stalin-like figure hovering above. The transition from public to private ties into the need for radical transformation on all levels of filmmaking: to replace the highly contrived master-story, symbols and allegories of the late Stalinist style with the everyday truth about ordinary people. At this time the name of Čexov enters critical vocabulary as one of the keys to evaluating cinema’s new focus on the private lives of individuals. Initially, the critics draw on Čexov quite schematically, measuring the reality of personages and particular situations.

Already in 1957, film critic R. Jurenev notes in his review of Kulidjanov and Segel’s film It Began This Way (Eto nachinalos’ tak) that the entire “free composition” of the film’s narrative is Čexovian. As the old film dramaturgy begins to disintegrate, the stress falls on freeing the plot (sjužet) from constraints of a dramatically driven and highly contrived story (fabula). At the beginning of the 1960s, two new stylistic trends take over: so-called “documentality” and “stream-of-consciousness.” The two tendencies often overlap and reflect the search for objectivity in portraying private lives. As V. Semerčuk observes in his review of Thaw film criticism: “Only when films with free dramaturgy began to emerge one after the other, the films that reflected the real stream of life or consciousness, the Čexovian key easily fit into the keyhole of this new dramaturgy.”

The first part of the paper will be devoted to a brief historical and theoretical analysis of the 1950s critical responses that contain references to Čexov and a brief discussion of the films under question. The second part of the paper will provide analysis of film criticism of the 1960s, of which the most interesting examples (such as V. Demin’s 1966 book Film without Intrigue (Fil’m bez intrigi) deploy Čexov as a main critical tool for comprehending contemporaneous trends in cinema. As an example of Čexovian cinema, I will provide a reading of M. Xuciev’s July Rain, a late Thaw film that combines both documentality and stream-of-consciousness and also revolves around a quote from a radio recording of Nemirovič-Dančenko’s stage production of Three Sisters.


Юренев, Р. «Рецензия с Большим Разбегом.» Искусство кино 1 (1957) : 94-104.

Семерчук, В. «Слова Великие и Простые: Кинематограф оттепели в зеркале криитки.» Киноматограф оттепели. Ред. В. Трояновский. Том 2. Москва: Материк, 2002. 60-85.