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New Left Review 53, September-October 2008


A screenplay from 1935, previously unpublished in English, by arguably the greatest Soviet writer. Amid far-reaching social transformation, notions of love, family and desire are also recast—with serious consequences for the simultaneously innocent and world-weary protagonists.

INTRODUCTION TO PLATONOV SCREENPLAY

Andrei Platonov is best known for his prose fiction—above all The Foundation Pit and Chevengur, at once lyrical and melancholic expressions of the utopian energies unleashed by the October Revolution. Yet little of his output appeared during his lifetime, and a half-century after his death, much remains to be system­atically published even in Russian. Further texts continue to emerge from the archive, demons­trating his immense range and productivity: stories, novels, critical articles, letters, plays and film scripts.

The screenplay printed here, written in 1935, is the first of Platonov’s film writings to be translated into English; it has appeared once before in Russian. Film writing played a more central role in Platonov’s work than had previously been thought: he completed at least a dozen scripts, in which he often recycled motifs from his prose or, conversely, first developed key themes; much of the 1929 libretto ‘The Engineer’, for example, prefigures The Foundation Pit. None of the scripts were accepted by the studios at the time; all remain unfilmed to this day.

Platonov began writing for the screen in 1928, at a time of urgent debate, especially in the pages of Novyi Lef, around the future direction of Soviet film: how best to capture the ongoing transformation of society? Platonov clearly felt current practitioners had failed in this task—a 1927 short story contains a passing reference to Sergei Eisenstein as a ‘maker of obscure films’, and in an unpublished article from 1931, Platonov argued that ‘our cinema is blind, like a new-born creature; the majority of pictures say nothing at all to the pressured consciousness of contemporary man’.

‘Father-Mother’ seems to have been written in parallel with Platonov’s unfinished novel Happy Moscow, whose protagonists yearn to transcend their existing selves while around them the Soviet capital is being physically remade. The upheaval of demolition and construction also forms part of the backdrop for ‘Father-Mother’. The screenplay’s main narrative strand is enclosed in one paragraph of the novel, but ‘Father-Mother’ otherwise stands further from Platonov’s prose than the rest of his film scripts—making it an even more unusual document of his response to the brutal reforging of the world going on around him. Littered with Socialist Realist tropes, it consistently subverts them with its humour, sadness and intense engagement with the fears and contradictions traversing its time.

ANDREI PLATONOV

FATHER-MOTHER

PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

ZHENIA, age 22–24, assistant locomotive engineer.
KATIA BESSONET-FAVOR, age 20–22.
TRAM CONDUCTRESS, age 25–30.
STEPAN, age 8–10, but looks younger.
IVAN BEZGADOV, age 26–28, manager of a cinema.
KONSTANTIN NEVERKIN, age 22–23.
POSTMAN, around 40.
LUCIEN, a Negro, a locomotive engineer.
BLIND OLD MAN.
BOY, age 5–6, the old man’s guide.
HAPPY REGISTRY OFFICE OFFICIAL.

NOTES ON THE SCREENPLAY

The picture should be directed and acted in a dry, severe, economical fashion, without any sentimentality. One could cite Chaplin’s Woman of Paris as an example of the style of production most appropriate for the theme of this screenplay. The role of the boy Stepan must be played not unconsciously—as children so often do in films—but with artistic skill and also without any sentimentality or childlike ‘charm’. The screenplay relies principally on the actors’ performance. The basic melodic theme for the film’s soundtrack should, I think, be Beethoven’s ‘Marmotte’.
The Author

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