«The Beginning» 1970
1970 / USSR / 91 min / melodrama /Lenfilm studio
Director – Gleb Panfilov
Inna Churikova – Pasha Stroganova/ Joan of Arc
Format – 35 mm / DVD
For information about rights for theatrical and DVD distribution please contact “Vera Films”
1971 Venice International Film Festival (“Silver Lion” – Gleb Panfilov)
Praskovia Stroganova is a young provincial girl of an ordinary appearance. She lives an unhurried life, goes out dancing with her girlfriends (namely to stand in the corner holding their bags and umbrellas while they dance), and plays the part of Baba Yaga in a local armature theatre. At one point some vital changes occur in her life – a young man approaches her at the disco; he, unlike many before him, does not want to play a joke on her, but he simply wants to invite her for a dance. This fact is enough for Pasha to fall in love with him at a first sight.
A few days later, a Moscow film director pays a visit to Pasha’s amateur theatre, and offers her a lead role in the film about Joan of Arch.
However, gradually things begin to take a rather negative turn. Her beloved turns out to be married, and thus Pasha gets herself involved in the notorious love triangle. Her screen debut is met with hostility from the producers, as not everyone is able to see her uniqueness the same way as does the director.
Despite a temporary moment of weakness and despair, Pasha manages to collect herself and makes a correct judgement. Her sacrifice may not be as grand as that of her protagonist Joan, but Pasha decides to end her affair and completes the work on the film. As a result she receives a standing ovation at the cinema auditorium. The film ends with an sole image of Pasha smiling at the viewer from a huge film poster of ‘Joan of Arch’.
About the film
The Beginning is Panfilov’s declaration of love to his muse Inna Churikova. After their first collaboration on the film No Path through Fire, Panfilov writes a screenplay specifically for the actress, where he presents her with not one but two complex and distinctive parts – Praskovya (Pasha) Stroganova and the great Frenchwoman Joan of Arch. Moreover, the real personal story of how Churikova became a renowned actress is covertly depicted in the film. From the very outset the film signals that this will be a story about Pasha/Joan as well as a story about Inna – a symbolic story of an extraordinary person, of a creator, blessed with talent by nature. An impressive opening scene, which in a series of silent montage of black and white photographs traces the life of Inna Churikova from her birth to present day, intertwines the life of the actress with that of her protagonist, and thus endows the film with a documentary dimension.
Furthermore, those who know how the duet of Panfilov/Churikova came into being will notice that this story is retold in the film. Pasha works at an amateur theatre, where she performs the part of Baba Yaga, and the director ( Panfilov’s alter-ego, who does not have a name in the film) immediately recognises in her his leading actress who would be ideal for the part of Joan. It is almost certain that the casting of the part of the director was very well thought through, for Yuri Klepikov not only bares a striking physical resemblance to Gleb Panfilov, but also comes from the same creative generation of the 60s — a key script writer for many films by Panfiov’s colleagues.
Thus, it is possible to state that there are not two but three story lines in the film. First is the main plot line about Pasha Stroganova, a provincial town girl, who selflessly admits to being in love with a married man, and who by some blind chance is offered a leading part in the film about Joan of Arch.
The second one is the immortal story about Joan of Arch. A story of a fragile woman, whose incredible will power helps her fight with the oppressive (male) order. Her eternal mystery is constituted by this unique combination of the female fragility and the unearthly strength of the spirit. She may cry out of fear before the battle, but when she dies in the fire, her face is enlightened.
And the third story exists ‘between the lines’. It is a story about the origin of a great creative (and familial) union of Gleb Panfilov and Inna Churikova. It is ‘the beginning’ of their artists journey; 1970 – one film is already made, but they still have much more to come.
Watching this film today, it is almost impossible to separate Churikova from her enchanting protagonist, for their stories are so similar. And in the finale it is difficult to say whether it is Inna or Pasha who stands on the stage, overwhelmed and tearful, accepting the ovation of the audiences.
“Inna Churikova virtually reprises her NO FORD IN THE FIRE part – a plain, naïve and excitable girl handed a Big Chance – but in a contemporary setting and in a slightly more light-hearted project. This time, her heroine is a factory worker who gets to play Joan of Arc (in the movies, no less) with only a community-theater part of Baba Yaga to her previous credit. The last touch is an industry goof on Churikova’s earliest parts; the director/husband Gleb Panfilov’s self-awareness is quite in evidence here, from the way in which the character’s ascent is shaped to mirror the actress’s, to the film’s set of a film set. In 1971, DEBUT won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.”
— Michael Zilberman, from the programme of “Revolution in the Revolution: Soviet Cinema of the 60s” film season
“About a girl who works in a factory, spends her spare time acting in a local drama group, and is discovered by a film director looking for an unknown to play Joan of Arc in his next movie, The Beginning avoids all the clichés you’d expect from a plot like this, souping the whole thing up by interweaving segments from the ’Joan’ film with sequences around the girl’s life. This is Panfilov’s second film, and he has obviously absorbed his fair share of Bergman, Bresson, Forman and Godard, but generally without allowing their influence to get in the way. The film also says something about the manufacturing of stereotypes. At the end the girl is unemployed, doing the agency rounds before going back to where she came from, while the camera lingers on an impossibly glamorous poster of her outside a cinema.”
- Time Out Film Guide
“Pasha is a small-town factory worker whose great passion (beyond the married man she’s seeing) is the theatre, but, not considered a beauty, she’s often stuck in character roles. One day a famous film director happens to drop in on one of her amateur group’s productions, and struck by Pasha’s performance, he invites her to star in an international co-production of Joan of Arc. Not normally known as a Lenfilm director, Gleb Panfilov actually began his career there, and won his first major international award (Silver Lion at Venice) with this, his second feature. Inna Churikova, one of the greatest actresses still working in cinema today (and Panfilov’s great muse), received international acclaim for her heart-rending performance as Pasha, alternately hilarious, pitiful, and seductive—and at times all three.”
- Film Society of Lincoln Centre.
Creators about the film:
Gleb Panfilov – director
“The idea of a film about Joan of Arch came to me after my first feature. This story as it seemed then, and I still think so now, fully expressed my perception of the world, of people, and society, of being in general, and I don’t mean a specific geographical or historical space, I mean the universe as a whole. This project seemed to unite all, from my personal experience to the ideas accumulated by mankind about a human being and the state, about love and duty, about God and Antichrist, if you will.”
“According to the readers’ pole of the magazine ‘Soviet Screen’, Inna Churikova was named the best actress of 1971; the best actor nomination was given to Innokenty Smoktunovsky”
The unrealised idea of a film about Joan of Arch: “ They would not fund this projects, for ideological reasons, I suppose. Why did it have to be Joan of Arch, and not Zoya Kosmodenjanskaya? Why France and not Russia? It is difficult for an artist to answer those questions. The image of Joan always stirred my imagination. She had a great idea to liberate her native land. And she managed to realise it! This is phenomenal. Her great personality moved me and continues to do so.
I am convinced that no matter what profession one has, one’s life is only fruitful when it is enlightened by a great idea. This is what I passionately yarned to make a film about. But I was given a condition to make a contemporary film first. So I made I wish to Speak. Then they offered me a limited budget to make a film of my choice. It was somewhat similar to a story of Stalin who gave his daughter, Svetlana, ten roubles, and told her to indulge herself. In other words, it was a subtle form of rejection. We had some negotiations with the French producers, but they lead nowhere. They wanted to cast either Catherine Deneuve or Vanessa Redgrave. But I could not envisage this film without Inna Churikova. So this film remained unrealised. Until this day, it is a great disappointment for us.”