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Published February 04, 2011 in Movies by Zach Varnell
The rise to power of Soviet socialism corrupts every aspect of life in a Russian city, leaving its occupants with three choices: cynicism, self-destruction, or escape. [Dir: Goffredo Alessandrini/ Alida Valli, Rossano Brazzi, Fosco Giachetti/ 174 min/ Drama, Romance, Foreign Language/ Italy/ In English with English Subtitles/ Anti-Socialism, Ayn Rand-Objectivism, Individualism & Indepenence]
It’s a fitting tribute to the universally authoritarian nature of Ayn Rand’s ideas that this film – first produced in fascist Italy as an attack on communism – was then banned at the angry insistence of the Nazis, who considered it antifascist. Like the Rand novel on which it’s based, it is, of course, an attack on totalitarianism of all stripes. The film was scripted, directed, and produced without Rand’s knowledge and only later discovered and reedited it under her supervision. Nonetheless, except for a slightly happier ending, it’s a faithful adaptation. As in the novel, the story begins as the Soviets have just taken power in Russia. All property is being nationalized. Food and other essentials are in short supply, and life in general is unhappy and uncertain. At the same time, as socialist aspirations give way to socialist reality, corruption and intimidation are becoming rampant. In this milieu, a young woman, s university student, is trying to make her way. By chance she meets a mysterious man with whom she falls in love. As it turns out, he’s wanted by the state. Meanwhile, an agent of the state, a GPU man, falls in love with her. It’s the classic love triangle. In the end, the respective choices made by these three central characters represent the only ones open to those living under totalitarian governments: cynicism, self-destruction, or escape. In many ways, this film is a recovered masterpiece of 1940s style cinema. There is tremendous artistry in every scene, expressed particularly in the subtle use of cinematography and wonderfully haunting music, and every part is played with great sensitivity. The effect is to make events not only understood but to create an atmosphere and mood that makes those events felt as well. It’s a little long by modern standards, but the time is not wasted. This engaging film has a touch of greatness.
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.