Red Blood Stains White Bark

The story of Vasilii Shukshin is as tongue-tied as the chudaks he represented in each film he wrote and each character he played. Shukshin was a Russian actor, director and writer that had taken over the 1960s and 1970s film industry by storm. He had created three movies, each gaining more attention from the Russian population than the one before; There’s This Guy (1964), Happy-Go-Lucky (1972) and Snowball-Berry Red (1973). Snowball-Berry Red was Shukshin’s greatest hit as well as being the last he could make and only because of his death a year after the film was released.

Snowball Berry Red had encompassed the life of Russian oddballs everywhere going through the phases of village to city life, yearning to find the purpose in their lives. The main character was Egor Prokudin which was played by Shukshin himself. Egor was a man who had been a part of a gang that had landed him in prison after several robberies. After being released, Egor had moved to the city seeking to do good in the world; however, city life was so much more different than village life. Egor had no job skills, was confused by modern age and could not find the one thing that he wanted the most… a purpose in life. In the search for this purpose, he falls back into his old gang. However, when he falls in love with a woman, he turns them away and they end up killing him. This scene of Egor’s red blood staining the white bark of the birch tree was the stark symbolism that “touched Russians deeply in the age of Soviet internationalism”.

This simple plot is what attracted the Russian population during the village movement called derevenshchina. The need to go back to rural simplicity was gaining ground during this time period and had established the “Russian national identity that had become central to Soviet patriotism”. Because of Shukshin’s untimely death during the filming of They Fought for the Homeland (1975) by Sergei Bondarchuk, his legacy was ambiguous. The question that every Russian had been pondering was if Shukshin was a non-conformist or if he was a Russian nationalist that wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world and to return to more simple times.

Sources:

Snowball-Berry Red

Vasilii Shukshin: Snowball Berry Red (1974)

Image: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1973-2/snowball-berry-red/snowball-berry-red-images/#bwg180/922

6 thoughts on “Red Blood Stains White Bark

  1. Growing up in the movie industry, I really connected with your post on how film can resonate with an audience and the effect it has. The power of film is clear in your post with Egor’s character and his effect on making a stance on Russia returning to a simpler life without cultural or political reserves. This post really made me think. Thank you!

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  2. This is a really interesting and yet sad story. It is a shame that a mind like his was wasted and had so much more art to produce. I believe that he had aspirations for change and was moving the masses with his gits. But sadly, that will never be known for sure.

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  3. Russian film is one of those topics that remains interesting and controversial throughout the 1900s. It’s surprising to me that in the 1970s, when the state eased its artistic and social censorship, that many people wanted to leave the thriving cities and return to rural villages. Nice post!

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  4. Russian cinema is a wonderfully interesting topic. In the United States, we seem to attend the movies primarily for entertainment, while this was definitely a factor for the Soviet people, their films did more than entertain. Many seemed to push their own agendas and served as motivation and grounds from which complicated socio-political issues could be approached by the people. Shukshin’s work is congruent with some of the dominant concerns of that time, namely those of Solzhenitsyn who pushed for a more conservative future of the USSR. Good post this week!

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  5. That was a really insightful post. I think it’s very interesting to see how film and music have such an impact on people, since they can portray messages in an uninterrupted way.

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