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The Back of P.P.: On Final Films and Boris Barnet

In an exclusive essay from the new magazine "Outskirts," the final film by the great Soviet master is reconsidered.
Boris Nelepo
Translated by Andrey Kartashov. Originally published in Outskirts Film Magazine, an English-language biannual magazine of around 160 pages per issue, made up of original essays, interviews, reviews, and a single large dossier, the first of which is devoted to Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet. It is now available to buy from the Outskirts e-shop.
Final films are doomed to failure. Could it be, perhaps, because at that point their directors have broken away from any expectations of what a film “must” be? A plot summary of Boris Barnet’s final film Whistle Stop (Polustanok, 1963) fits easily into just a few short sentences. The scientist Pavel Pavlovich, member of the Soviet Academy, goes to the countryside for a vacation with his easel and paints. Several seemingly trivial scenes from village life ensue. A tractor runs away from its owner. A friendly bull pays Pavel Pavlovich a visit. Kids next door insist on building a stove. Why? Well, one needs a stove. Pavel Pavlovich manages to paint a few pictures before his vacation ends, and then it is time to leave. “And that’s that!” reads the title of the film’s only long review published in Russian (by Vera Maksimova1), a perplexed exclamation.
Whistle Stop wasn't seen by many. The film, a Writers and Filmmakers Sixth Creative Union’s production, screened mostly at matinee shows in peripheral regions of the USSR. However, a brief comment in the Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper dismissed the film as a “typical misfire that, in addition to plain lack of taste, manifests neglect to the basics of comedic composition.”2 Years later, in 2000, luminary of Soviet film scholarship Neya Zorkaya wrote in an otherwise passionate piece: “The unfortunate Whistle Stop—an inorganic, tepid work imposed on [Barnet] by the studio, a film that he made half-heartedly without his usual passion—this title should not have concluded the master’s filmography.”3
My own observations suggest that the film’s reception hasn't changed. Boris Barnet, who in his lifetime knew little success, has been steadily gaining attention and recognition throughout the world. In 1992, the first complete Barnet retrospective was prepared by Naum Kleiman for the Moscow Film Museum on the occasion of what would have been the director’s 90th birthday. The opportunity to see Barnet’s masterpieces in succession must have been bliss, and not to mention the surprise of screenings of previously unseen works, such as A Good Lad (Slavnyy Malyy, 1942). Whistle Stop felt too low-key to stand out among this strong lineup. In March 2021, a full retrospective was organized by Sasha Lavrova at Illyuzion Cinema—an invaluable treat for Moscow’s Barnet aficionados, but they, again, met this final work with indifference. Such is the destiny of last films.
Jacques Rivette’s Around a Small Mountain (36 Vues du pic St. Loup, 2009), Vincente Minnelli’s A Matter of Time (1976), Charles Chaplin’s A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), Akira Kurosawa’s Not Yet (Madadayo, 1993): delicate, elusive objects that feel as if they don't fully belong to our world. Whistle Stop is, in a similar vein, not only a valediction but an attempt to capture its maker’s already thinning connection to a certain lived reality. If I may indulge further in grandiloquence, Barnet’s film proves cinema’s ability to be something larger than a faltering storyline—that is, an object that reveals the medium’s transcendental foundations through its narrative gaps and oddities, features without which cinema wouldn't even be an art form at all.
What would be the right way to grasp and define this film? The trouble with Whistle Stop lies in the fact that it was, on the one hand, an assigned job that Barnet had to take on at short notice; and, on the other, a film that may well be his most personal work despite the unfavorable circumstances. It seems to fit into the Socialist Realist canon: an intellectual, far removed from the working people, is immersed into kolkhoz life, the labor of which brings new meaning to his existence. But maybe it doesn't, after all. Or perhaps we should view him through a dissident lens: one of an individualist in a creative, artistic pursuit? Barnet mocks the trope in any case: the protagonist discovers that his predecessors, who visited the village to make their own art, painted the exact same citizens in the exact same poses. So much for the myth of a unique creative genius.
A more pointed question: is this comedy or tragedy? Chekhov wrote tragedies in the form of comedy and he wasn't immediately understood. Is it appropriate, then, to define Barnet as a Chekhovian filmmaker? I am not sure. And yet, this peculiar quality of his cinema was noticed by the Hungarian theorist Béla Balázs as early as in 1933 when he wrote in a letter to the filmmaker4: “In your work, the tragic moment is also and at the same time a comic one. Shakespeare mixed earnestness with humor with great success. The difference between the two, however, remained discernible. Your images and gestures are tragic and comic at the same time. Tragedy and comedy cease to be two distinct categories, which allows you to overcome the dualism that compels people to perceive life itself as tragic or comic.” The critic Khrysanf Khersonsky came to a similar conclusion at a discussion5 of Dark Is the Night (Odnazhdy nochyu, 1945) at the Moscow Cinema House in the year it was released.
Aren't such contradictions, which form the basis of Whistle Stop, the essence of Boris Barnet’s work and life, which was spent in constant self-questioning and doubt? This might have been the first time that he summarized both so eloquently inside a single film.
Pal Palych (Vasily Merkuriev) arrives in the countryside and meets the village’s reigning beauty, the milkmaid Klavka (Ada Berezovskaya, a student of a circus school, here in her only film performance; her lines were dubbed by a different actress). The fussy kolkhoz foreman Gruboukhov (Boris Novikov) provides him with a house; his wife is the kolkhoz‘s top performer who is often away at a conference or another, so their daughter Nyuska (Lyuda Chistyakova, in her only film performance) is always by his side. The community’s matriarch Tatiana (Yekaterina Mazurova) watches chickens, sits for artists and bakes bread for the whole village. Tractor driver Ivan (Aleksandr Potapov) is in love with the kolkhoz‘s bookkeeper Sima (Nadezhda Rumyantseva) who is jealous of Klavka. Finally, there’s also Sima’s brother, the restless Grishka (Kolya Bogatyriov, also in his only performance). He tosses about the village, secretly dismayed about his sister’s imminent marriage and eager to learn every existing trade; his ears always pinned back for mischief. That is practically the whole ensemble of this small drama.
Evgeny Yakovlevich Margolit, a leading historian of Soviet cinema and a champion of Whistle Stop, defines it as a “valedictory film,” pointing to the physical resemblance between the old Barnet and Vasily Vasilyevich Merkuriev as Pavel Pavlovich. Indeed, even the way his unshaved face looks is similar to the stubble sported by Barnet in production stills from The Wrestler and the Clown (Borets i kloun, 1957). I am also inclined to an autobiographical interpretation. But any notion of “authorship” in the Soviet cinema should also be taken with a grain of salt. Is it our fondness for Barnet that compels us to project the details of his biography onto one of his films? Whistle Stop's screenplay is credited to the youth fiction writer Radiy Pogodin (1925-1993) and to Boris Barnet himself. Reading Pogodin’s script treatment, available in archives, positively confirms Margolit’s decades-old description and resulting hypothesis.
Firstly, I managed to identify Pogodin’s short story “Quiet” as the screenplay’s source (of which Barnet himself was likely ignorant). It was published in the author’s early collection, “Stories About Cheerful People and Good Weather” (1960). The narrative is concise. Two friends on vacation, archeologist Anatoly and artist Kirill, rent a house at the outskirts of a village. There’s no stove, which is disappointing. They can't cook their oatmeal, and besides, it would be nice to stay until the autumn, when nights are going to get colder. They enquire with the kolkhoz chairman but he can't help them—the stove maker has gone to town. The following morning, they discover a boy at their door offering to assist in constructing a stove. Of all characters familiar from the film, only a few are present in the story: the old Tatiana, Sima the bookkeeper, and Ivan the tractor driver—but none of them make any significant impact on the narrative. No real connection is established between the characters. “Quiet” revolves around Anatoly, Kirill, and Grishka (the boy’s name is only revealed late in the story). The story ends in a happy resolution of the common cause—the stove has been built, the “cheapskate” stove maker is upstaged. “The chimney was fuming. The house seemed to float along the wooded river bank. It was rousing the thicket, scaring the quietude with its cheerful, lived-in look.”
Pogodin developed the story into a screenplay treatment, now titled “Whistle Stop” (Polustanok). Most characters that we know from the film are present and already connected to one another. Grishka is now the bookkeeper’s brother. The principal characters, however, are still a duo—this time a couple of student travelers, archeologist Anatoly (again) and artist Nadya, who randomly buys a ticket at Moscow’s Yaroslavl Station: “We want to just go somewhere … We'll get off at some whistle stop. Someplace quiet …” While the protagonist’s passion for painting was only mentioned in passing in the short story, in the screenplay Nadya paints the villagers on a regular basis. The stove problem remains: the girl craves hot food, the guy is worried about cold nights in the autumn.
The story begins on a slightly absurdist note. It’s not even clear in its early scenes whether the traveling companions knew each other before the trip. They are embarrassed to share a household. Nadya uses her easel to partition the mattresses apart from each other, Anatoly sleeps by the entrance. She brushes off his advances with a crisp response: “No emotions.” They go through a jealousy test: the archeologist dances with Klavka the milkmaid, the artist goes for a ride with Ivan the tractor driver. Thus, the film conceived by Pogodin is driven by the comically romantic tension between the two characters. The humorous strand is made complete by Grishka’s directing their labor exploits. The ending is, again, happy: the stove solemnly fumes, the tractor driver marries Sima, the dodgy stove maker has been put to shame as Anatoly and Nadya leave the village to fall into a mutual love. Curiously enough, the short story’s male duo shared the same wish, and a line from their dialogue reappears in the screenplay with only a minor change: “Why don't we break away? Just let it all hang out and run into the woods…”
The story has yet another version. In 1971, VGIK graduates made a children’s omnibus titled Are You Joking? at Lenfilm, the third and final segment of which, directed by Valery Chechunov, was an adaptation of “Quiet.” As in Whistle Stop, there’s no mention of the short story, but Radiy Pogodin is credited as a co-writer. This time Anatoly and Kirill are ethnologists—researchers of folk art who come to the village to collect and compile humorous songs. Anatoly is portrayed by Valery Ryzhakov, who appeared in Whistle Stop in the supporting part of Vasya, the driver. That is the only version among the four in which the characters find no success in stove making. They forget about the groundwork; in the end, the whole construction collapses along with the house as the stove maker is watching. Finally the “cheapskate” has it his way!
Comparing Barnet’s Whistle Stop to its three other iterations makes it clear that what we see in the film is a manifestation of authorship, the director’s will, intuition, and emotions. Pogodin submitted the script to Mosfilm in late July 1962. Archives hold the shooting script’s third and fourth drafts, which means rewrites and approval took at least another month. The third draft makes no mention of Barnet, listing the newcomer Anatoly Markelov as the director. In the final shooting script Markelov is still the one in charge of directing, while Barnet is listed as the production’s creative supervisor.
Whistle Stop had been completed by July 15, 1963, when its signed approval was issued. That means that production must have started in 1962. The dating is in line with a first-hand account by the film’s extra, Evgeniya Shumkova, published on kino-teatr.ru: “The film was shot in the town of Ochamchire in Abkhazia at the Black Sea coast. The shooting was supposed to take place during the summer, but it was delayed for some reason, and the crew had been idling around, waiting for sunny weather.” The picture is clear: the film had to be completed in a short time to stay on schedule, and Barnet was pushed to do the job instead of an unreliable first-timer, just as was the case on Annushka (1959).
Clearly, Barnet re-wrote the story to make it his own. It wasn't the first time that he'd done so: Fyodor Knorre who wrote the screenplay for Dark Is the Night based on his own stage play complained: “The director goes into shooting, gets rid of almost everything that was written, that he personally revised and approved, and … films some kind of unchecked free improvisation that he comes up with during the shoot.”6
What was Barnet’s “improvisation” in Whistle Stop? He transformed the story into a film about aging, replacing a young couple with an elderly intellectual. He emphasized the theme of creativity and disappointment in art, bringing the artist’s subplot to the centre of the narrative. Pogodin introduced the aftershocks of the war as a motif, which Barnet developed even further. And then he took possession of the story by filling the narrative with autobiographical details and personal references.
Why “Whistle Stop”? The screenplay writer detailed an urban prologue as a background for the opening credits: “Engine rods, clanking gear. Railway platforms. Thick steam. A loud whistle. Wheels rattling. The last wagon rumbling away. A whistle is heard from afar and then … all quiet.” He suggested a rhyme for this in the ending—an editing sequence to set up the culmination: “A train speeds past a quiet whistle stop. A railway worker with a goat on a leash is standing by the train tracks.” If you look closely enough at the opening animated sequence, you might notice a hand-drawn locomotive—that’s it. There’s no other connection to the railway motif of the title. A surplus carried over from the  pre-approved title of a Mosfilm production. Isn't this title itself a joke by Barnet?
When I first saw Whistle Stop, I was taken immediately during the first few minutes by its animated opening. It doesn't get simpler than that. A drawn human figure is trodding somewhere—why does this image evoke such a poignant, painful, Barnetian feeling? That was the first time that Barnet ever turned to animation in a film. The sequence was made by the director Mikhail Botov, an experienced Soviet animator whose career goes back to 1937. An offscreen voice begins the film by telling us that our protagonist “decided to revive the past and his passion for painting, to which he gave free rein in his youth.” Barnet had studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpting, and Architecture and kept a habit of drawing friendly caricatures, as well as costume designs, throughout his life. In 1956 he was made a member of Soyuzmultfilm Studio’s creative board and even wrote a few screenplays for animated films (none of them produced, of course). Pal Palych is walking, walking, walking ahead. This animated prologue is upfront; isn't that what the film’s about?
Or is he being walked? The fundamental difference between Whistle Stop and its predecessors, the short story and the screenplay, is in the stove subplot: Barnet’s version is the only one in which construction begins against the protagonist’s will. It is a tragicomic motif. Every circumstance distracts Pal Palych from the work he chose to focus on. His trajectory is dependent on the wishes of others and on events beyond of his control. He rescues a lost tractor at the expense of his first painting, which sinks into the river. As soon as he finally finds some solitude, he is intruded on by local children: “The foreman ordered us to install the stove, and full stop.” (In the film, the characters of Grishka and Nyuska take over from Anatoly and Nadya). Then he gets called in and has to leave the village without saying goodbye to his new friends—again, in contrast to the screenplay, in which it is the couple’s own desire that sets them off. Isn't that similar to Boris Barnet’s wanderings around various Soviet film studios?
There’s a reason why Pavel Pavlovich made his way to the Soviet Academy. Of course he helps the kids with the stove; of course it works out beautifully. It is as perfect as some of Barnet’s films that he made sometimes out of despair and lack of money, sometimes under compulsion, and almost as often under totalitarian command. Those films may have been directorial feats either major—The Scout’s Exploit (Podvig razvedchika, 1947) or Generous Summer (ShchedroyeLeto, 1950)—or more idiosyncratic—A Night in September (Noch v sentyabre, 1939), Two Kolkhozes” Sugar Beet Crop Competition (Sorevnovaniye dvukh kolkhozov za vysokiy urozhay sakharnoy svekly, 1949)7, Masters of Ukrainian Art in Concert (Kontsert masterov ukrainskogo iskusstva, 1952). Some quotes from the director himself are quite revealing in that sense. 1954, Lyana: “I have had enough of bad scripts. Just fed up with them. One day I”m just going to hang myself over a bad script.” 1955, while making Poet: “You're asking me about work, friends, mood—about my life. I have no friends. As for my mood, well, were it not for my daughter, I'd only wish for 'eternal rest.'”
Whistle Stop is a humorous retelling of Barnet’s own life, his tragic misalignment with time and space. His peer Friedrich Ermler was born exactly at the right time and the right place and fit right in with history, since he was making art of a religiously ardent, convulsive Stalinism. Barnet, meanwhile, was meant for a different country and a different cinema, which he hardly had a chance to be making at any point after By the Bluest of Seas (U samogo sinego morya, 1936). The films that were truly his own were born out of rare moments of freedom when the state wasn't paying as much attention to art: The Old Jockey (Staryy naezdnik, 1940), A Good Lad (Slavnyy Malyy, 1942), Dark Is the Night (Odnazhdy nochyu, 1945), Alyonka (1961), Whistle Stop. Had destiny had other plans, it would be easy to imagine Barnet in Hollywood—he would surely have found his place there and given Billy Wilder a run for his money.
Whistle Stop‘s paradox and beauty lies in the fact that it is not drowned in bitterness. No, the filmmaker discovers harmony and light in it, and makes peace with life. The comically awkward story of Pal Palych and his countryside trip proves that fantasies of a different life, of would-bes and wanted-to-bes, are unnecessary. After all, "stove making” is what life is all about—each of us is sometimes forced to do something we would rather not be doing, but occasionally, it is in those moments that beautiful things are born. Things like Whistle Stop. Is the character’s life meaningless? No, it isn't. No life is lived in vain, according to Barnet. Such a shame that he never convinced himself of it.
Radiy Pogodin’s books inspired the Ukrainian Radomyr Vasilevsky to adapt them more frequently—on nine occasions!—than any other film director. However, in Margolit’s opinion, Barnet was the only one who faithfully translated the author’s manner into cinema. Margolit counts Pogodin among the indirect heirs to the Oberiu literary tradition, a tradition developed further by Viktor Golyavkin and Vadim Shefner in Leningrad. Indeed, the stove building story has something Oberiu about it, and Barnet raises it to an absurd level. There is, however, a fundamental aspect of Whistle Stop that the film owes to its literary source.
What is it that drives Grishka’s obsessive wish to build a stove? A heightened sense of justice, sure. The village’s only stove maker is “an egoist and a skinflint.” He charges way too much, misses deadlines, and works carelessly. The boy’s loneliness, of course; this is a curiosity that we find so often in children’s literature. Finally, a lack of appreciation—it is emphasized in the text how he is always pushed around. All of that, however, is secondary. In every version of Whistle Stop it is revealed that the boy had never built a stove before. He'd tried to watch the stove maker work until the man noticed him and chased him away with a shovel. He doesn't know how to make a “knee,” or an evacuation bend, which is crucial for a stove’s operation. How to avoid the smoke fuming into the house? “He’s the only one and keeps it all secret,” Grishka complains. Secret! Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Isn't this a key word in a key Russian film? Will the bell toll?
Andrey Tarkovsky proposed Andrey Rublev to the studio in 1961, and the finished film was released five years later. The story of a boy (Boriska in Tarkovsky’s film) who takes on a difficult task without knowing the necessary craft but is confident that he will discover the secret to it in the process: this idea, of course, came to Pogodin and to Tarkovsky and Konchalovsky coincidently. Such things often happen, there is no reason for any suspicion. But there are some profound similarities between the two films. Pogodin’s screenplay included a startling, terrifying scene, in which Grishka takes Anatoly and Nadya along on a trip to pick up some bricks. “There used to be a big village here,” said the boy pensively. “The fascists burned it down during the war. They burned down the church, too. It was a nice church. Could play movies there.” They break up the masonry. Nadya walks around the destroyed bell tower alone. The scene’s ending: “Nadya and Anatoly get in through the window. The Virgin’s calm, dead eyes watch them from the wall. Christ’s plump lips press against her chest.”
Boris Barnet tamped the scene down, cutting most of it. An inattentive viewer might not register that Pal Palych and the boy came to the dilapidated church to knock off bricks with a hammer. Grishka only makes a passing comment: “Those buggers built this thing for no real purpose, but it’s solid.” Russia’s entire history, it seems, is wrapped into this rhyme: the history of Boriskas and Grishkas who build first, then destroy what was created “for no real purpose.” And discover the secret, be that of a bell’s tongue or a stove’s knee, without knowing it in advance.
In the only book in Russian about the director, “Boris Barnet’s Life and Films” (1977), the writer Mark Kushnirov dedicated but a few paragraphs to Whistle Stop, in which he reconstructs a domestic argument: “You're going for a thankless work again. Another bad screenplay. You know it’s not going to work.” “No, no, you don”t get it, there’s something about it. It’s about aging. An old intellectual goes on a village trip to have some peace. He is taking a walk with a young woman, she drops her handkerchief, he bends down to pick it up and can”t unbend himself.”
It is clear now that either it was the interviewee’s memory that failed her or Kushnirov’s retelling was unfaithful; but that’s beside the point. This dialogue is also about the director’s intention to make the text his own, to find a personal angle. The narrator, who is only heard once in the very beginning, tells us that Pavel Pavlovich was ordered to get some rest by doctors. Physical labor in the fresh air is an arduous task for him—his eyes get sore, his fingers are injured, his back aches. Barnet who by that time had had a heart attack knew about health issues all too well. A heavy smoker himself, he gave the habit to his scientist character as well.
So, a film about aging. The way Whistle Stop is shot suggests a transparent, invisible wall dividing the character from the outside world. Everything about him is alien: he is from Moscow, an artist, his bag covered with stickers from Italian and French hotels at which his new friends will never have a chance to stay. Valentina Kozintseva reminisced about Barnet8, “He appeared to be a person of an English-like restraint.” His otherness is addressed directly in conversation. Old Tatiana says, “Didn't I say he was a strange man?” Grishka: “You're transient!” Klavka: “I can”t understand why specialists come to every other kolkhoz while to our place only painters come.” This is a world bursting with youth and energy, a world with its own rhythm. Klavka the milkmaid’s pace is so fast, so hard it is for him to keep in step! This motif culminates in the dancehall scene: the protagonist “can”t straighten himself up.”
In the screenplay, the dancing sequence was about Klavka’s seducing the young Anatoly, and the director, who has had quite a few romantic affairs in his life, preserves an echo of this desire, adjusted for the age difference, giving the scene a wistful feeling. The lonesome Pal Palych, who repeatedly deflects from her direct questions about whether he has a wife, spends a lot of time lying down, tumbling in his bed, sleeping. A lot of screen time for such a short film is given over to him lying motionlessly in bed. In the film’s first few seconds already, a lullaby is playing over Mosfilm’s standard opening, which makes the rotating statue of Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, the studio’s emblem, look like figures from a child’s music box. What is Pal Palych dreaming of? Consider the moment twenty minutes into Whistle Stop when he covers his head with a pillow, and suddenly an image of sea waves appears, intruding into the film, an image that seems to be from a different movie. By the bluest of seas. He dreams of a sea. Barnet reworked a railway film in accordance to his own sensibility, having added images of the sea, which were entirely absent in the screenplay, and emphasized the river. It was him who named the village Beregovaya, “Riverside.”
I believe Whistle Stop can be seen as Barnet’s auto-retrospective, a look back on his own life. Barnet scholar Svetlana Semenchuk in her dissertation points out that “Vanya is holding a gift for Sima, a nondescript string of beads, and exactly the same gift was received by Mashenka in By the Bluest of Seas.” Isn't this bridge similar to the one passed by the protagonist of Generous Summer after he met a girl resembling Klavka? Isn't Whistle Stop‘s plot similar to that of The Old Jockey? Isn't the feeling of otherness a scout’s exploit?
An artist and an observer, Pal Palych may try, apart from his recollections and dreams, to capture a life already beyond his reach, like a filmmaker. His visit to the old Tatiana brings a disheartening discovery: her house is filled with identical portraits—even if all of them are painted in different styles, including Cubism. “Everybody has a stove,” the kids explain to him to justify why the work is so urgent. Identical pictures. This tragicomical scene is also a Barnetian contribution. Are we looking at a bitter reflection on his own place in film history, a sardonic commentary on Soviet film production, or an optimistic observation about an artist’s ability to make something new no matter what? It is all of this at once. Pal Palych accepts the idea that, in the ideal case, he will paint another picture that will be a mere copy of things that others have created. This may be why he gives the easel and the paints to little Nyuska in the ending.
Before he leaves, Pal Palych writes a brief note on the stove wall with a piece of coal. His farewell is succinct and reserved: “had to leave on business.” He writes the words, “I am very glad,” then wipes them away at once. We hear Pavel Pavlovich’s sorrowful inner monologue: “Goodbye to you Grisha! You will probably manage to do more with your life than I did with mine. And probably better.” This solitude is similar to that of Mikhail Ulianov’s character, who will find himself twenty years later in the ending of Yuli Raizman’s Private Life (Chastnaya zhizn, 1982), alone in front of a mirror.
Gennady Poloka once said: “He was infinitely lonesome in his art. Unlike other major directors, he never had a recurring crew of collaborators.”9 This is true for Whistle Stop as well. The only ones he knew were the composer Kirill Molchanov who made the soundtrack for Alyonka; and he had briefly collaborated with the cinematographer Sergey Poluyanov and production designer Vasily Scherbak on The Wrestler and the Clown, which Barnet completed after Konstantin Yudin’s death.
Poloka might have been right about Barnet’s loneliness. His paintbrush, however, was picked up by others. Think about it: Marlen Khutsiev began as assistant director on Lyana, and Poloka himself, on Annushka. Svetlana Semenchuk remarks that Poloka’s Intervention (Interventsiya, 1968) was a development of ideas introduced in Poet. Amid joy and music, as the Izhevsk Film Club’s co-founder Sergey Belousov has aptly put it, Leonid Gaidai entered the Soviet comedy scene in Lyana, in which he made his acting debut. It is worth noting that his constant DP would be no other than Poluyanov; unusually for Barnet’s cinema, the cinematographer made excessive use of zooming, a technique that would become an organic part of Gaidai’s eccentric style. Full circle: the way the folk researchers enter the frame in Are You Joking? feels like they have failed an audition for Gaidai’s Kidnapping Caucasian Style (Kavkazskaya plennitsa, ili Novye priklyucheniya Shurika, 1967). Khutsiev, in turn, would unconsciously mirror the self-retrospective approach in Infinitas (1991).
The easel must be passed on. Whistle Stop witnesses a new world coming to replace the old one, and even words and names are re-coded, acquiring new meanings. Waves wash the painful past away. The burnt-out village is the only echo of World War II in Pogodin’s text. Barnet dropped the detail but preserved and developed the motif.
Maksimova criticized Whistle Stop in her review at Iskusstvo Kino: “An abstract idyll where nature reigns. There is barely a hint of our time, or a meaningful reference to contemporary rural life, its people and their exploits.” Quite so. But Whistle Stop‘s fictional, fantastic world exists in two dimensions at once. On the one hand, the village store is improbably piled with goods; on the other hand, old Tatiana follows Pal Palych asking to fix her only sewing machine. Like his audience of the 1960s, Barnet is well aware of the true state of affairs in the post-war Soviet village—accurately described in Fyodor Abramov’s tetralogy “Brothers and Sisters” (1958-1978)—while also dreaming of a life that must be kept on living after the war, and after his own biography.
The director had signed up as a volunteer into the Red Army and served as a field medic during the Civil War. Pal Palych is showing scars on his back to the children: “Bullet in the Civil War, a piece of shrapnel at Leningrad.” There is a scene with little narrative motivation, in which he is reached on the phone by a Genosse Werner inviting Pavel Pavlovich on a business trip. The German language must sound so odd in this village that neighbors the remains of a church torched by the Nazis. And yet the humorous scene completely lacks a dark undertone. Grishka is familiar with the war’s aftermath; he says about his father: “He’s got four ribs missing, a piece of shrapnel at Budapest.” For Nyuska, in her turn, Budapest has an entirely different meaning. It is a place where her mother, the kolkhoz‘s honor, goes to speak as an invited guest.
The old man’s stiff body seems to be carrying with it the entire weight of the 20th century. “Built the first blast furnace in Magnitogorsk.” The children are looking at the writhed, motionless Pal Palych. They've brought him an ointment for his rheumatism, in a port wine bottle; Barnet, a well-known reveler and merry-maker, was strictly prohibited by his doctors from drinking alcohol during the last years of his life.
The children pour the whole bottle over his body and spread the black liquid over his back, like paint over a canvas.
The writer would like to express his gratitude to Sergey Belousov, Ekaterina Kalinina, Naum Kleiman, Sasha Lavrova, Evgeny Margolit, Vadim Rutkovsky, Maksim Selezniov, and the Filimonov family for their help in writing this text.

1. Iskusstvo Kino, no. 1, January 31, 1964
2. Vadim Frolov, December 18, 1963
3. Kinovedcheskiye Zapiski, no. 47
4. Greetings to the Comrade Barnet, Kino, 1933
5. “Here Barnet Echoes Surrealism!” From a transcript of the meeting of the theory and criticism section at the Cinema House on May 28, 1945, about the film by B. Barnet “Dark Is the Night.” Publisher: Milena Musina, Kinovedcheskiye Zapiski, no. 57
6. “Here Barnet Echoes Surrealism!”, ibid.
7. Reportedly a 40-minute documentary Barnet made in Ukraine, unavailable in the archive at Gosfilmofond, though materials about this film exist in National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre and in Central State Archives of Literature and Art of Ukraine in Kyiv. What are the materials? A review of the script, the production correspondence, and information on the film in a logbook by the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre. This joins the list of extremely elusive Barnet documentaries that we could not track down beyond cursory mentions here and there, which includes the lost films Living Things (Popular Science, 1930), The Piano (Popular Science, 1930), Making Musical Instruments (1930). This was detailed by Svetlana Semenchuk, Phd at VGIK, Visual System of the films of B. V. Barnet, 1941-1965. - [editor]
8. About a Wonderful Person, Kinovedcheskiye Zapiski, no. 57
9. “He Never Learned to Shoot On Commission.” Marlen Khutsiev, Gennady Poloka, Otar Iosseliani. Remembering Barnet. Interviews: Tamara Sergeeva. Kinovedcheskiye Zapiski, no. 61


Boris BarnetOutskirts Film MagazineLong Reads
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