Our classic in Venice: we recall the director Larisa Shepitko

Our classic in Venice: we recall the director Larisa Shepitko
Our classic in Venice: we recall the director Larisa Shepitko
This year, at the 75th Venice Film Festival, the “Ascension” tape, filmed by the Soviet director Larisa Shepitko, will be shown. The film of 1976, restored at the “Mosfilm”, will be presented in the framework of the program “The Venetian Classic”. This event gave us a reason to talk about one of the most tragic biographies of the national cinema: “Ascent” was the last completed film in the life of the director.
Larisa Shepitko

What is the movie about

But first a little about the tape itself, which has become a classic movie. The film was made based on the work of Vasil Bykov “Sotnikov” about the two partisans who fell into German captivity. The main characters face a choice: endure torture, but do not betray or save their lives at the cost of a friend’s life. In the lead roles, Boris Plotnikov and Vladimir Gostyukhin starred – according to the director’s plan, the main characters were to be played by little-known actors.

When work on the tape was completed, there were problems with its output. The film did not want to give permission to release: Shepitko was reproached for having removed the “religious parable with a mystical touch, and not the partisan film.” To achieve the picture on wide screens, Larissa’s husband, director Elem Klimov, decided to show “Ascent” to the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, Petru Masherov (knowing that the politician himself was a partisan during the war years). During the specially organized show the film touched Masherov to tears – and in a few days thanks to his high appreciation the tape was allowed to show.

In the USSR, “Ascent” was watched by more than ten million viewers, the rights to the film were sold to 40 countries. At the Berlin Film Festival alone, the film received four awards, including the main one – “The Golden Bear”.

Profession: director

In the Soviet Union, female directors were, rather, an exception to the rules. Even at the entrance to the VGIK Larissa Shepitko was advised to go to the acting department – especially since external data quite allowed her to win a movie screen. But she obstinately wanted to become a director, although she tried herself as an actress more than once.

Shepitko enjoyed the authority in film circles, even in Hollywood circles, by the names of the people she spoke to: Bertolucci, Foreman, Coppola. The latter even showed Larissa several options for the final of his “Apocalypse”, in order to consult her about the best ending.

Larisa Shepitko

Work in the cinema

In addition to the already mentioned “Ascension”, the attention of critics, the press and spectators captured a few more pictures of the director. The psychological drama “Wings”, which was shot in 1966, is now considered to be the best films made by women about women. This is the story of the former pilot, the hero of the war, Nadezhda Petrukhina (in her role, actress Maya Bulgakov starred). The heroine has something like a crisis of middle age: past exploits are in the past, like love, she can not find mutual understanding with her daughter and adapt to a peaceful life. In longing for the outgoing youth Petrukhin begins to look for new “wings”, which again would give her a sense of flight.

A piercing and direct drama, though it did not win awards, appealed to the public and inspired many: at that time films about strong women were rare. Film critics call the tape unique for the 60th phenomenon – the story is so unusual and the scenes depicting the feelings and memories of the heroine are masterfully shot.

One of the most famous and, unfortunately, few works of Larisa Shepitko was the drama “You and I” with Yuri Vizbor, Leonid Dyachkov and Alla Demidova. This is the only colored tape director. Speech in the film is about two talented doctors, one of whom leaves abroad, but returns without finding his destination.

And again, the search for oneself, the inner struggle, the collapse of illusions – for Shepitko’s films there is a general characteristic of the drama associated with what is happening in the soul of the heroes. The film “You and I” was a success at the Venetian Festival in 1972: he won a silver prize in the category “Venice – Youth”.
Shepitko knowingly chose the profession, traditionally considered a male. By the strength of character, she could give a hundred points ahead to many of the stronger sex.

Almost each of Larissa’s few works (only six films in her lifetime) was given to her not easily – both morally and physically. Shooting “Ascension” began in the winter in the vicinity of Murom, where in those days there were 40-degree frosts. Actor Vladimir Gostyukhin told how, during the filming of one of the episodes, Shepitko literally saved Boris Plotnikov from the cold, who was shot in one overcoat:

And every time, every double Larisa Yefimovna rushed to him, covered her body, rubbed his ears, hands. And now both of them were covered with snow … This snow-swept tangle of dreams I still dream about at night and causes a pain in my heart, maybe love or gratitude … I do not know …

On the set of one of his previous films – “Heat” – Shepitko got sick with hepatitis. But she continued to work and refused to depart from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow: sometimes she was literally brought to a platform on a stretcher.

Almost every film Shepitko fell under the strict censorship, did not approve the actors, whom she chose for the main roles – Vladimir Vysotsky, Bella Akhmadulina. Larissa generally had a reputation for “difficult” for the authorities of the director. But she did not despair and continued to fight for each of her bands as much as needed.

Larisa Shepitko

Actor Alexei Petrenko told about his impression of working with Larissa in the tape “Agony”:

From her emanated an incredible power, a superhuman strength, and since I played the visionary Rasputin and had to be the most powerful in energy, I lost all my power with Larissa. On energy, it was stronger than the entire crew.

“Agony” was a project of her husband Larisa Shepitko, but she shot just a few scenes of the film.

Creative couple

Elem Klimov is a director and screenwriter who created one of the most beloved comedies of Russians – “Welcome, or No Trespassing.” Future spouses met in VGIK and especially approached when Shepitko worked on her thesis paper “Heat”, and Klimov helped her.

It is unlikely that the relationship between husband and wife has always been ideal: both were completely captured by creativity, and the periods of their ups and downs did not coincide – on the wave of success of one husband another could be in a creative crisis.

Ten years after the wedding, their only son Anton was born. Pregnancy was severe, in addition, the future mother was injured in the spine and several months did not get out of bed. But the baby was born healthy. Now Anton is 45 years old, he is engaged in journalism, he worked as a PR man at the show business stars, now he writes prose.

Anton says that his mother does not remember well: because of work she often left. But in the interview, he shares those memories that he has preserved:

Mom was a stunningly beautiful woman. The rare combination of beauty, talent and spirituality. She became my ideal.

In people, as a rule, there is a certain skew in one or the other side. In my mother, everything was perfectly perfect. She lived a very rich spiritual life, had a rich spiritual world. At the same time she was a fashionable, beautiful woman, able to go to the podium in Paris to Pierre Cardin, even in those years when everything was insanely difficult.

Father, according to Anton, also not casually managed to win the first beauty of VGIK:

He was a handsome man and an athlete: a master of sports in basketball and rowing. In addition to talent, he had a tremendous sense of humor and, as they say, charisma. I think Dad could conquer anyone just like a man.

According to the son of Klimov and Shepitko, his parents perfectly complemented each other in their work: each had his own strengths, and they were always ready to help each other in creativity.

When there was a serious talk about the creation of the family, an agreement was reached between the parents that each of them is an independent creative person and none of them will even try to subjugate another for themselves,

– says Anton Klimov.


The last film Larisa Shepitko began to work on is “Farewell to Mother” based on the novel by Valentin Rasputin. In the summer of 1979 members of the film crew, including the director, went out in search of nature early in the morning, and the driver of the service “Volga” pickup fell asleep at the wheel. The car lost control and crashed into a truck loaded with bricks on the Leningrad Highway. In addition to Larissa in this car accident, the operator Vladimir Chukhnov, artist Yuri Fomenko and their assistants were killed.
Shepitko was 41 years old. The son of Larissa and Elema was at that time only six years old. Many who communicated with Shepitko shortly before the tragedy, say that she had a presentiment of death and called the “Ascension” her last film, which surprised others.

Work on the unfinished film of the wife was completed by Elem, reducing its name to one word “Farewell”. After this picture, the director shot only one tape, and also created a documentary film “Larissa”, dedicated to the deceased wife. He was never married again, and, according to his son, did not even try to meet someone:

Father was sure that when he leaves this life, he and his mother will be together again. In recent years, he has increasingly lost interest in the world around him, he lived with only one thought – how to connect more quickly with his mother, and this was evident even to outsiders. Between the parents there was a very strong spiritual connection, both before and after my mother’s death.

– says Anton Klimov in an interview. Elem Klimov died at the age of 70 in 2003.

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