Igor Talankin: Soviet director known for his Second World War morality films
Wednesday 27 October 2010
Igor Talankin was a talented Soviet director and a mentor to others. Many of his films are set during the Second World War and discuss moral issues, but his greatest international success – and an Oscar nomination – came with his biopic of Tchaikovsky in 1969. It is perhaps his least-subtle film; with the composer played by Innokenti Smoktunovsky, the best-known Russian actor of the time, and its safe – not to say leaden – approach to the genre and the subject, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar. Bizarrely it also qualified for original score, its music being a patchwork of original and pastiche Tchaikovsky by the producer Dmitri Tiomkin who, before becoming a successful Hollywood composer, had been a concert pianist in post-Revolutionary Leningrad.
Industry Vasilevich Talankin was born in Noginsk about 20 miles east of Moscow, at a time when it was common to give children names that reflected the excitement of post-Revolutionary technology. He later chose the more mundane moniker Igor.
After graduating in scriptwriting from the state film school, he co-directed Seryozha (1960) with actor-director Georgi Daneliya. Adapted from Vera Panova's story, it charts a young boy's relationship with his stepfather. Soviet directors' graduation films often feature children, and this is one of the more charming entries. Husband and wife Sergei Bondarchuk and Irina Skobtseva played the adult leads, the first of several occasions on which they worked with Talankin.
Talankin's first solo effort was Vstuplenie ("Introduction", 1962), set in wartime Leningrad and based on another Panova story. In the freedom of Khrushchev's post-Stalin thaw, it was frank about wartime infidelity, and it went on to share the Venice Film Festival's Special Jury Prize with Louis Malle's Le feu follet. It also began another important collaboration, with composer Alfred Schnittke.
Dnevnye Zvyozdy ("The Stars of the Day", 1966) was based on poetess Olga Berggolts's autobiography. She was a difficult figure for the authorities: though she stayed in Leningrad during the siege making inspirational radio broadcasts, her more personal work was suppressed, even after her death. Suspended strangely between interior monologue, poetic recitation, exterior action and memory, it won an award at the Venice Film Festival. It also introduced Talankin to the actress Alla Demidova, who appeared in most of his subsequent films. In 1967 Talankin collaborated with Chingiz Aitmatov on Materinskoe Pole; it was Gennadi Bazarov's directorial debut, and over the next few years Talankin produced several first-time directors' films.
Vybor tseli ("Select a target", 1974) traces the development of the atom bomb in America, Germany and the Soviet Union. Like many Soviet historical films, it attempts a documentary feel, with ook-alikes for Hitler, Roose-velt, Stalin and Oppenheimer et al, but it is marred by clichéd wartime heroics and talk-filled conference scenes.
The stately pace continued in 1978 with his version of Tolstoy's much-adapted Father Sergius, starring Bondarchuk and, as with Tchaikovsky, choreographed by Talankin's wife, Lilia Mikhailovna. Zvezdopad ("Starfall", 1981) was more interesting. Again set during the war, it combines three stories by Viktor Astafyev and its dreamy interweaving of past and present is far more effective than the alternately formulaic and confusing Tchaikovsky.
Vremya otdykha s subboty do ponedelnika ("Time Off From Saturday to Monday", 1984) adapted Yuri Nagibin's story about a woman re-encountering an old friend who was thought lost during the war and is now disabled. After his classic or modernist scores, Talankin re-employed Schnittke but also included music by the rock band Centre, who also took some roles in the film.
Rock also features in 1988's Osen, Chertanovo ("Autumn, Chertonovo"), but the traditional film-making reflects its bleak, cold morality. A woman from that Moscow suburb with a husband and a lover has a series of one-night stands and is raped and killed. This traditional style predominated in Talankin's later career and from hereon he co-directed with his son Dmitri, who also scored their last film.
Though an adaptation of The Master and Margarita came unstuck, Talankin did manage Besy (1992), based on Dostoevsky's The Possessed. Similarly, a film about the poet Marina Tsvetayeva also collapsed but with Dmitri he turned the play into a musical.
His last film Nezrimyi puteshestvennik ("Invisible Traveller", 1999), traced the last days of Tsar Alexander I. After that Talankin retired from the director's chair to concentrate on teaching.
Industry (Igor) Vasilevich Talankin, screenwriter, director, producer: born Noginsk, Moscow 3 October 1927; married Lilia Mikhailovna (one son); died Moscow 24 July 2010.
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