Exploding the idea of the documentary as a staid, emotionally detached genre, Turksib and Salt for Svanetia applied the striking compositions and charged kineticism of Soviet montage to the fledgling genre and achieved an unprecedented intensity.
Resisting the character-driven narrative adhered to by the rest of the world’s filmmakers, Victor Turin formulated a grand, elemental drama centered around the struggle for survival in Asia, fromthe arid plains of Turkestan to the icy Siberian mountains. Turksib depicts the depicts the herculean accomplishment of joining these distant and disparate regions by rail — an awesome monument to Soviet engineering that is also a satisfying spectacle to behold on a purely primal level.
Released the following year (though virtually unseen in the U.S. until this Kino on Video release), Salt for Svanetia is an ethnographic treasure that ducuments with visual bravado the harsh conditions of life in the isolated mountain village of Ushkul. Often compared to Buñuel’s Land Without Bread, Salt begins as a starkly rendered homage to the resourcefulness and determination of the Svan. But as the focus shifts to the tribe’s barbaric religious customs (more haunting and otherworldly than any surrealist could have envisioned), Mikhial Kalatozov’s film transforms itself into a work of remarkably powerful Communist propaganda, holding up these grotesque, near-pagan ceremonies (which many Svanetians later denied the authenticity of) as an example of religion’s corruptive influence. —Kino International
Mikhail Kalatozov’s film career followed a circuitous path. By dint of birth, he belonged to the zeitgeist of the 20s, the generation of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kozintsev and Vertov. However the long gaps in his filmography did not allow for a consistent development of cinematic style and theme. These ruptures are results of the fluctuating changes of the Soviet Union’s film policy. It’s shift from the avant-garde in the 1920s to a major cog in Stalin’s propaganda factory and finally its resurgence during the “thaw” of de-Stalinization. A Georgian by birth, Kalatozov’s early career had strong local roots. At the Tiblisi Film Studio, he apprenticed as a camera operator, writer and editor on films such Gulli and Gipsy Blood. His directorial career began with Their Empire and The Blind Woman.
His first major work was the experimental Salt for Svanetia, made in 1930. The film was an ethnographic portrait of the distinct culture of the people of Svanetia, a mountainous region in northwestern… read more
Glorious Soviet documentary about a small village called Svanetia, whose lives are dominated by local land barons and backwards religious practices that waste their precious resources. Essentially a call to bring modernity to provential people, SALT FOR SVANETIA is a fascinating window into a vanished culture. While much of it is clearly staged, Kalatozov (CRANES ARE FLYING) makes his case brilliantly.