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Film poster (1987)
Directed by Aleksandr Askoldov
Written by Aleksandr Askoldov
Vasily Grossman (story)
Starring Nonna Mordyukova
Music by Alfred Shnitke
Cinematography Valeri Ginzburg
Studio Gorky Film Studio
Release date(s) 1967
Running time 110 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian

Commissar (Russian: Комиссар) is a 1967 Soviet movie based on one of Vasily Grossman's first short stories, In the town of Berdichev ("В городе Бердичеве"). The main characters were played by two People's Artists of the USSR, Rolan Bykov and Nonna Mordyukova. Made at Gorky Film Studio.

Maxim Gorky considered this four-page story one of the best about the Russian Civil War and encouraged the young writer to dedicate himself to literature. It also drew favorable attention from Mikhail Bulgakov and Isaac Babel.


History of the film

The fate of the film was tragic. It was shot in the political climate of post-Khrushchev Thaw. From the outset of the production, Goskino censors forced the film director Aleksandr Askoldov to make major changes: 1967 was the year of the 50th anniversary of 1917 October Revolution and the events were to be presented in the Communist Party-mandated style of heroic realism.

After making the movie, Askoldov lost his job, was expelled from the Communist Party, charged with social parasitism, exiled from Moscow and banned from working on feature films for life. He was told that the single copy of the film had been destroyed.[1] Mordyukova and Bykov, major Soviet movie stars, had to plead with the authorities to spare him of even bigger charges. The film was shelved by the KGB for twenty years.

In 1986, due to glasnost policies, the "Conflict Commission" of the Soviet Film-makers Union recommended the re-release of the movie but Goskino refused to act. After a plea from Askoldov at the Moscow Film Festival, when the collapse of the Soviet regime was imminent,[citation needed] the film was reconstructed and finally released in 1988.

The movie won the special prize of the jury and the Silver Bear at the Berlinale 1988, four professional Nika Awards (1988), including one to composer Alfred Schnittke, and other awards.


DVD cover

During the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), a female-commissar of the Red Army cavalry Klavdia Vavilova (Nonna Mordyukova) finds herself pregnant. Until her child is born, she is forced to stay with the family of a poor Jewish tailor Yefim Magazannik (Rolan Bykov), his wife and six children. At first, both the Magazannik family and "Madame Vavilova", as they call her, are not enthusiastic about living under one roof, but soon they share their rationed food, make her civilian clothes, and help her with the delivery of her newborn son. With motherhood, yesterday's tough military commander discovers a new world of humanity, spirituality and family joys.

Meanwhile, the frontline advances closer to the town and the Jews expect a pogrom by the White Army. Vavilova attempts to console them with a Communist dream: "One day people will work in peace and harmony", but the dream is interrupted with a vision of the fate of the Jews in the coming world war... She rushes to the front to rejoin her army regiment, leaving her newborn behind...



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