Arsenal (1929)

Arsenal (1929)

“Hurry up, brothers — Arsenal is dying!”

Synopsis:
A Ukranian soldier (Semyon Svashenko) returns home from World War I to participate in the Kiev Arsenal January Uprising.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Revolutionaries
  • Russian Films
  • Silent Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that this “beautifully photographed, poetic silent film by Alexander Dovzhenko” exalts “the revolutionary spirit of Russia’s farmers, workers, and soldiers.” He notes that it takes place near the end of World War I, which “is causing misery throughout Russia,” with “poverty and hunger… widespread and women mourn[ing] the fathers and sons being killed in combat” — a time when “the seeds for armed insurrection against the Czar have been planted, but for now the bourgeois Social Democrats, the White Russians who would eventually support Kerensky’s provisional government, try to crush the Bolsheviks.” Meanwhile, “we stand firmly behind the arsenal workers in Kiev who go on strike and the common men of Ukrainia who bravely stand up to the guns of the counterrevolutionaries.”

One should be forgiven for not immediately understanding the nuances of this very-specific slice of time, which is likely not well known to anyone other than Russian history buffs — but suffice it to say that this second of three films in Dovzhenko’s “Ukraine Trilogy” does indeed have a “story [that] is hard to follow at times” (most of the time!) while also containing “a succession of images (many used symbolically) [which] have amazing force.” Peary calls out a number of especially memorable scenes, including “a one-armed farmer standing in the field with his skinny horse”:

… “a funeral procession in the snow”:

… “the bourgeois reacting with fear when the motors of the arsenal come to a halt”:

… “the portrait of a revolutionary leader, Shevtshenko, coming to life”:

… “and, in an uplifting final shot, our own hero… standing firm”:

… though Peary surprisingly leaves out an impactful early sequence in which a bald, bespectacled German soldier becomes insane from laughing gas:

Unfortunately, the film’s lack of narrative clarity — coupled with our overall ignorance of the specifics of what’s going on — make for a frustrating viewing experience; this one isn’t must-see other than for fans of early Soviet cinema.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many powerful, disturbing images


  • Danyl Demutskyi’s cinematography

Must See?
No, unless you’re particularly interested in early Soviet cinema.

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One thought on “Arsenal (1929)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see – and in agreement with the assessment, esp. the following: “the film’s lack of narrative clarity — coupled with our overall ignorance of the specifics of what’s going on — makes for a frustrating viewing experience.”

    That said, the viewer can still sense a strong power behind what’s presented – and, no doubt, a deeper knowledge of Russian history would give way to a deeper appreciation of the film.

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