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SL7: Soviet and Russian Cinema

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

This course investigates the history of Soviet and Russian cinema from its beginnings in the early 20th century through the present : from early silent comedies and melodramas to the emergence of the avant-garde in the 1920s; from Stalinist blockbusters of the 1930s through the Soviet ‘New Wave’ of the 1960s; from the tumultuous changes of the glasnost’ era through the postmodern challenges of the present. The paper encourages students to explore the work of one or more directors in depth, but it also asks students to think comparatively about the evolution of filmmaking practices, genres and themes across historical periods and political changes. This course is open to students in both Part IB and Part II; it does not assume any prior study of film, but students are expected to read a wide range of critical, historical and theoretical texts (in both English and Russian) as essential context for the films under discussion.


1)  Revolutionary Film Culture: From Boulevard to Avant-Garde

This topic traces the emergence of Soviet avant-garde cinema from pre-revolutionary popular filmmaking in films by Evgenii Bauer (Grezy), Sergei Eisenstein (Stachka), Iakov Protazanov (Aelita), Lev Kuleshov (Prikliucheniia Mistera Vesta v strane Bol’shevikov), Vsevolod Pudovkin (Mat’), Grigorii Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg (Novyi Vavilon).

2)  From Silence to Sound: Sergei Eisenstein, Oleksandr Dovzhenko and Dziga Vertov

This module explores the work of the three major figures of the Soviet avant-garde, focusing on the ways in which each navigated the technological and political changes of the 1930s and 1940s.   Films will be analysed in the context of each director's theoretical writings and contemporary critical debates. Works to be studied  include Eisenstein’s Bronenosets Potemkin (1927) and Ivan Groznyi (1944-1946); Dovzhenko’s Zemlia (1930) and Ivan (1932);  Vertov’s Chelovek s kinoapparatom (1929) and  Tri pesni o Lenine (1932).

3) The Other Soviet Classics: Popular Cinema in the Stalin Era

This module examines the ways in which Soviet filmmakers sought to ‘catch up and overtake’ Hollywood  in the musicals, melodramas, romantic comedies and war films that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s.  Filmmakers to be discussed include Vasil’ev Brothers (Chapaev), Grigorii Aleksandrov (Tsirk, Volga-Volga), Ivan Pyr’ev (Traktoristy), Mikhail Romm (Lenin v oktiabre), Semen Timoshenko  (Nebesnyi tikhokhod), Mark Donskoi  (Nepokorennye) and Mikhail Chiaureli (Padenie Berlina)

4)  Soviet Cinema After Stalin:  Rewriting the Past, Confronting the Present

This module investigates the ways in which Soviet cinema rebelled against the thematic and stylistic constraints of the Stalin era in a range of extraordinary films released between 1957 and 1985.  Filmmakers to be discussed include  Mikhail Kalatozov (Letiat zhuravli), Marlen Khutsiev (Mne 20 let, Iul’skii dozhd), Sergei Bondarchuk (Sud’ba cheloveka), Larisa Shepitko (Kryl’ia), Grigorii Chukhrai (Ballada o soldate), Kira Muratova (Korotkie vstrechiDolgie provody) and Andrei Tarkovskii (Ivanovo detstvo, Andrei Rublev)

5)  Russian Cinema from Perestroika to the Present:

This module addresses the principal trends and figures in Russian filmmaking from the glasnost’ era through the present. Filmmakers to be discussed include Aleksei German (Moi drug Ivan Lapshin), Aleksei Balabanov (Brat, Gruz 200),  Andrei Zviagintsev (Vozvrashchenie, Leviafan),  Kira Muratova (Astenicheskii sindrom, Nastroishchik), Vasilii Sigarev (Volchok), Aleksandr Sokurov (Krug vtoroi, Telets) and Sergei Loban (Shapito-Shou).

The course is supported by a Moodle site, where students will find links to learning resources, recommended readings and online versions of some films. Students who intend to take the course may contact the course convenor to request early enrolment in the site over the summer.

Preparatory reading: 

The best preparation for this paper is to watch as many Russian and Soviet films as possible over the summer. Works by all the directors listed above are available on DVD from the MMLL library.  Many are also available on in high quality copies that have been posted by the major Russian film studios.

Recommended summer reading:

Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art:  An Introduction

Beumers, Birgit. A History of Russian Cinema.

Christie, Ian and Taylor, Richard (eds),  The Film Factory:  Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896-1939. London and NY: Routledge, 1994.

Tsivian, Yuri.  Early Cinema in Russia and Its Cultural Reception

Widdis, Emma. Visions of a New Land: Soviet Film from the Revolution to the Second World War

Woll, Josephine.  Real Images: Soviet Cinema and the Thaw

Condee, Nancy. The Imperial Trace: Recent Russian Cinema

Full reading list

Please see SL7 Course Handbook for details.

Teaching and learning: 

Weekly lectures; weekly revision seminars and fortnightly supervisions (10 in the course of the year).

For the SL.7 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


Candidates for Part IB:[1] 

A 5-hour timed online examination.

 Answer three questions. At least one answer must focus on the works of a single director whose films were produced in Russia, the Soviet Union, or one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. At least one answer must be comparative across the works of at least two Russian, Soviet, and/or post-Soviet filmmakers.

 For each answer you should write no more than 1,300 words.


Candidates for Part II

The examination will consist of TWO parts:


1) Lent term Coursework Essay

Answer ONE question from a list that will be released at the end of Lent term.

You should write no more than 1,800 words.

Essays will be due for submission at the start of the Easter term (the precise date and time to be announced in due course.)


2) Easter Exam

A 3-hour timed online examination.

Answer TWO questions. You must ensure that across the SL7 examination as a whole, AT LEAST ONE answer focuses on the works of a single director whose films were produced in Russia, the Soviet Union, or one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. And AT LEAST ONE answer must be comparative across the works of at least two Russian, Soviet, and/or post-Soviet filmmakers.

For each answer write no more than 1,500 words.


Write a 3,000-word essay on ONE of the starred questions from either section A or section B.

Candidates for this paper may not draw substantially on material from their dissertations or material which they have used or intend to use in another scheduled paper. Candidates may not draw substantially on the same material in more than one question on the same paper.[3]



[1] [For papers offered at both IB and II, ensure both IB and II templates are included]

[2] [The 3000-word single essay option is at paper convenors'/examiners' discretion: please delete as appropriate.]

[3] [Please ensure this paragraph is given unamended, as it is a Faculty requirement.]




Course Contacts: 
Prof Emma Widdis
Dr Daria V. Ezerova

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