DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: SONATA FOR VIOLA
Culled almost entirely from archival footage, SONATA FOR VIOLA is a masterfully hushed essay-portrait of Russias most famous modern composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. Co-directors Sokurov and Aranovich balance a pictorial history of 20th century Russia against their subjects own trials and travails, without talking-head interviews or in-hindsight reconsiderations. Beyond clips from propaganda films and contemporaneous newsreels, Aranovich and Sokurov bring to light an invaluable wealth of primary sources: photos and home movies from Shostakovichs own life, and a bittersweet audio recording of a brief phone call between Shostakovich and his colleague David Oistrakh the only instance of the composers voice in the film, outside an anti-fascist speech made during the war.
Made while the filmmakers were at Leningrads State Documentary Film Production studio (LSDF), SONATA carries a scathing critique of Shostakovichs state persecution which was, unto itself, couched in a language of aesthetics: following Russian victory in WWII, Shostakovichs beloved symphonies were disowned by state-favored composers for their excess formalism and alleged disconnection from the proletariat. For this issue delicately parsed in the narrative, as this was a state-financed documentary Sonata for Viola was nevertheless confiscated by KGB and suppressed until the perestroika years; upon its completion, the filmmakers were told by the authorities that Shostakovich is far from being forgiven.
Sokurov split up the reels and stashed part of the original cut at his own apartment, the rest in a friends countryside dacha. Elegaic but never gimlet-eyed to the point of nostalgia, SONATA FOR VIOLA plays its subjects grand stature against the inexorable creative silence that followed his persecution, prompting essential questions about politicalized norms, the waxing and waning of Kremlin-approved aesthetics, and the pursuit of sublimity under totalitarianism. If the music is what looms largest, thats the films inevitability: Shostakovich made all the more enigmatic as a cornered antihero, glimpsed almost entirely in one of historys least-forgiving limelights.
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