The House on Trubnaya (1928)

Director: Boris Barnet

We actually last saw Boris Barnet just a few days ago in Kuleshov’s Mr West, in which he played Jeddy; however, he parted acrimoniously from little Lev after nearly getting killed on that film doing a dangerous stunt Kuleshov insisted he do. Kuleshov’s loss was Soviet comedy’s gain, though… This was Barnet’s fourth film, and a damned fine little bit of work it is, too, combining some pretty remarkable technique—Barnet being evidently au fait with the trickery of the European avant-garde of the period, using what almost looks like Norman McLaren-style pixillation at times, plus camera movement and crane work I’m not sure I’ve seen in Soviet silent cinema otherwise—plus an essentially sweet story of a young girl from the sticks sent to visit her uncle in Moscow; unfortunately that plan is buggered up by him returning to the village on the train arriving at the village station just as hers departs. So she finds residence in the house of the title, a rather rundown tenement, and works as a maid for the hairdresser who also lives there. Needless to say, when the latter’s wife refuses to let him hire union labour, you can tell this job’s going to end in trouble… As this piece notes, the hairdresser (played by Vladimir Fogel, who obviously did very serviceable villains; alas, he committed suicide the year after this) is the key figure in the film in a lot of ways. Vera Maretskaya as the country girl is rather marvellous, too, it should be said, she gives the film a lot of its considerable charm, but Fogel gives us the film’s parting shot; after he’s been shopped to the trade union and told he’ll do jail time for his misbehaviour, he initially looks stunned, then shrugs, and there the film ends. It’s a slightly dark note for the film to end on, suggesting that even Soviet law couldn’t make people actually repent about their misdeeds if they didn’t want to, and they’d do them again given the chance. You get the feeling Paranya won’t be the last servant he mistreats.

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