The Arty Semite

Russia Reverses Course on Boris Pasternak Doc

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Russia’s Channel One commissioned “The Crime of Boris Pasternak” from Svetlana Rezvushkina’s Lavr Film Studio, and then — giving no reason — refused to air it upon its completion. Was it because the film wasn’t commercial enough? Or was it because the television station thought it wouldn’t interest young viewers? These are possible answers, but Rezvushkina, a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker, suspects there may have been political motives behind the government-run channel’s change of heart.

Thanks to the filmmaker’s persistence, the hour-long documentary about the final, and most fascinating, decade-and-a half-of the Russian poet, translator and novelist’s life is now being shown to audiences. It has had several screenings in Moscow (including one at the Jewish community center there), one at a French film festival, and another at the United Nations Association Film Festival in Palo Alto, California in October. It has finally been bought by another Russian television channel, and will be broadcast this month.

“It is important to show this film in Russia,” Rezvushkina said. “We still remember that time, and a time like that could come again.”

Rezvushkina, 50, refers to the time when Pasternak declined the 1958 Nobel Prize in response to a crushing campaign against him by the Communist Party and the Union of Soviet Writers. Pasternak had been nominated several times for the prize, but it was the publication of his first and only novel, “Doctor Zhivago,” in 1957, that led to the award. Published in Italy after its manuscript had been smuggled out of the USSR, the novel became an international sensation. But in Pasternak’s country, where the book was not available and no one had read it, it was condemned for being anti-Soviet.

Pasternak, one of the most beloved Russian poets and one of the greatest figures in Russian literature, was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers. He was ostracized and no longer given work, and within two years he was dead of lung cancer at age 70. Rezvushkina and many of the people she interviewed for the film believe Pasternak’s demise was caused by something other than cancer. “What happened with the novel is what killed him,” said the filmmaker.

Rezvushkina story begins at the end of World War II, when Pasternak decided to dedicate himself to writing “Doctor Zhivago.” By weaving testimony by family members, friends and literary experts together with 8mm home movies, family photographs and archival footage, Rezvushkina has created a detective-like narrative that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The film’s fast pace, moved along by a suspenseful staccato soundtrack, is balanced by slower passages featuring Russian actor Oleg Menshikov (who played the role of Doctor Zhivago in the Russian film version of the novel) reading relevant excerpts from Pasternak’s letters and poems.

Pasternak’s complicated love and family lives made it harder for him to withstand pressure from the Soviet state, and also made it difficult for Rezvushkina to make the film. Pasternak had two wives and a mistress, and juggled at least two families. Because of lingering animosities, the descendants from his different families refused at first to cooperate with the project, but Rezvushkina convinced them to participate by saying that “the true, whole story needed to be told.”

The writer’s Jewish background does not come in to play in the film, however. “I don’t think it matters,” the filmmaker, who is herself Jewish, said. “This is a story about a very strong man.” For her, the takeaway from “The Crime of Boris Pasternak” is that “his character was very important. He was originally a very soft and gentle man. It was very difficult for him, but once he decided to be strong with his novel, he did it,” she said. “This is the example for how to live.”

Watch the trailer for ‘The Crime of Boris Pasternak’:

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Crime of Boris Pasternak, Svetlana Rezvushkina, Renee Ghert-Zand, Film, Documentaries

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.