©2009 Gleb Panfilov Fund
«The Theme» 1979
1979 / USSR / 99 min/ drama /Mosfilm studio / year of release, 1986
Director – Gleb Panfilov
Mikhail Ulianov – Kim Esenin
Format – 35 mm / DVD
A well-known writer Kim Esenin travels from Moscow to the province in search of new themes for inspiration. There he suddenly discovers that people live very different lives to those in the capital.
He accidentally bares witness to an intimate romantic drama that occurs between a dissident Andrey, who is migrating to America, and his lover, Sasha. Kim is deeply moved and shocked by this intensity of the conflict and the authenticity of emotions. The protagonist decides to abandon his new-born feeling for Sasha, and leaves for Moscow.
About the film
“Morality is the truth”. These words of Vassily Shukshin come to mind after the viewing of Panfilov’s The Theme. The controversial figure of Kim Esenin, brilliantly embodied by Mikhail Ulianov, is very far from the canonical depictions of the esteemed soviet writers one is used to encountering in school literature. Kim Esenin, who for many years has been wasting his talent by pleasing the public opinion, is the embodiment of the process that is born out of perpetual compromises in life and art, out of desire to hide the shortcomings and paint the reality with bright pink colours.
Mikhail Ulianov plays a complex character, a strong personality. Kim Esenin is very different from his ordinary colleagues novelists, who’d put their pens on the product line, with the only intent of gaining money, untroubled by the guilty consciousness.
The drama of Ulianov’s character is constituted by the fact that he sooner or later realises that he cannot go on living like this, writing to fulfil someone’s request, and not his personal creative yearnings. The actor brilliantly demonstrates that his protagonist is torn between the two: the bitter realisations and self-reproach, and the deeply rooted habit of being the ‘laureate’ of some state prize.
The habit of leading a double life – an intimate and a public– became the very essence of his existence.
Panfilov always writes and directs the female character exceptionally well. One of the key roles in The Theme is played by Inna Churikova. Her character Alexandra (Sasha) is an art historian, who works at a local provincial museum. Modest and focused, she wears a smart suite and speaks French fluently; Sasha is the embodiment of the best qualities of Russian intelligentsia. She is the only person in Kim Esenin’s life, who tells him the truth about the genuine value of his works; as she is incapable of lying by nature.
The theme of love for one’s country, for its endless snowy expanses, which are shot with tenderness and inspiration by Kalashnikov’s camera, for the Great Russian antiquities, is presented in the film not as an abstract concept, but as an inseparable part of human lives, of human conflicts, of Good and Evil, of sincerity and hypocrisy, of truth and lies…
— Alexander Fedorov
“It is this kind of courageous creations, diametrically opposite to the grey faceless mass of worthless films that we need today. Though the unfortunate practice demonstrates that this type of films has to fight its way to the screens with maximum hardships”
— Alexander Fedorov, “Kino” (Litva), n. 11, p. 7, 1986
“A key movie in glasnost cinema, Panfilov’s film was refused a release by the Soviet authorities until 1987, when it promptly won the Golden Bear at Berlin. Oulianov is a mediocre writer who makes a good living toeing the Party line, but he knows he’s a fake and that his success has little to do with genuine talent. By siding with the real artists rejected by the system, Panfilov makes a courageous statement against the conformity suffocating cultural life under the Brezhnev regime. A dour, very Russian piece, but a substantial one”
— Time Out Film Guide