11 April 2001 | katiewoodcock
Storm of a non-Russian?
In his last silent film, Storm Over Asia, Pudovkin changed direction by creating a non-Russian plot. Although the film deals with political situations, it is not about a Soviet worker, farmer or mother-- but about a Mongolian, and for this Pudovkin received a lot of condemnation by the film critics of his time.
The chronicle is set in 1918 (at the time of the Civil War) on the Mongolian steppe. The narrative is focused on one character; the brave Mongol hunter Bair. He comes into a precarious situation when his father falls ill, and Bair must go to the town to trade his pelts for food for the family. After a disagreement with a wealthy British trader over the price of his treasured silver fox fur, the hunter is forced to flee into the mountains where he meets up with a group of Red Partisans. After a visually confusing fighting scene with quick shots and unidentifiable participants, the hunter is captured by the British and taken back to the city. Unable to communicate with the British officers, they order Bair to be executed.
At this point the narrative splits and we follow the actions of the officers and the lengthy execution of our protagonist. The officers soon discover that Bair is a descendant of Genghis Khan (by an amulet that Bair chance acquired) and attempt to stop the execution. After the discovery of Bair's ancestry, the British take our protagonist and attempt to set his up as a prince in order to justify their own control and power. After experiencing several awkward moments and being put on display, Bair becomes enraged and destroys the British headquarters. He then flees the town. The climax, his fight, has quick editing and flashes the words "down," "bandits," "thieves" and "robbers" with an image of our protagonist screaming in rebellion. Pudovkin juxtaposes the dramatic and quickly edited scene with a subsequent attack on the Mongolian steppe. The protagonist is on horseback wielding a sword and followed by a great horde of warriors, evoking images of Genghis Khan. The dust and debris of the steppe follows this attack, forming the image of a storm sweeping over the land and attacking the British.
The scenes on the steppe are very significant to the mood of the film. When all is well in the film, the steppe echoes this seemingly peaceful feeling. During the climax, the steppe becomes violent and windy, much like the horde of warriors. These natural shots set the mood for the narrative and reflect the emotions of the protagonist. Pudovkin implements fade-ins and outs. This is one of the earliest films where this cinematic technique has been implemented in a productive way, pertaining to the narrative by signaling a time lapse or location change.
This film is very unique for its time. It is one of the first Russian films with non-Russian characters (all of the Mongolian cast are real Mongolians). It also focuses on political themes that do not glorify Soviets. Many critics at the time of release saw this film as non-Soviet and non-political because it neither deals with Russia nor serves a direct purpose for a propaganda film. Pudovkin's critics were ruthless and alleged that moving away from Soviet themes was going to lead a film crisis. Where films would no longer confront and convey the complex problems of Soviet society. Many also alleged that Pudovkin's endeavor was unattainable and uninteresting for audiences, who just could not grasp the meaning behind the film. There was no purpose for Storm over Asia to serve in the propaganda films of the time. This detachment from the Soviet themes was refreshing for me, so I would infer that it would also be for Russians at the time.