Salt for Svanetia assessment – poetic, dreamlike Soviet documentary of forgotten world

Salt for Svanetia assessment – poetic, dreamlike Soviet documentary of forgotten world

In 1930, simply as Luis Buñuel was releasing his basic L’Age d’Or, the Georgian director Mikhail Kalatozov gave us the 55-minute silent film Salt for Svanetia, an equally wealthy, unusual and mysterious work of ethno-fantasy and social-surrealist reverie. It’s theoretically a documentary in regards to the blessings which Soviet modernisation dropped at the distant neighborhood of Ushguli within the Svanetia province of north-west Georgia; it incorporates a folks ruled by tribal traditions going again to the center ages. Working with editor and formalist literary critic Viktor Shklovsky, and impressed by {a magazine} article by the author Sergei Tretyakov, Kalatozov seems to have been initially undecided whether or not his movie set in Svanetia could be reality or fiction. He settled – ostensibly – on the previous.

The elemental concept is that Svanetia’s persons are on the point of hunger as a result of they haven’t any salt, which their cattle must lick to get very important mineral vitamins. They’re surrounded by impassable mountains and glaciers so little or no salt could be introduced in. Cattle need to lick the sweat from different animals or people – one among many weird closeup vignettes – or from urine, and even blood. Clearly, a street constructed with Bolshevik trade will assist them.

However wait. Audiences for this would possibly nicely suppose … why now? Why is Svanetia in any extra hazard of hunger from lack of salt at this second than at another time of their lengthy historical past? Might it’s that the perennial salt drawback is only a pretext to increase the Soviet empire of rational modernisation to incorporate this backward medieval Shangri-La? And would possibly it even be that Kalatozov’s creativeness was itself impressed by the concept of a primitive secret society and that he exaggerated, speculated and arguably even invented the traditions in all their irrationality and dreamlike thriller?

Closed society … Salt for Svanetia. {Photograph}: Klassiki

Kalatozov spins a wealthy, unique story of a folks whose robust battle in opposition to feudal princes earns them a good bit of revolutionary respect. However their retrograde practices nonetheless have to be streamlined and modernised. They’ve their very own model of haircuts; cue dreamlike closeup on snapping scissors which the movie juxtaposes with their wool spinning and carding. There may be an eerily highly effective shot of cattle being taken on a rope-bridge over a river in full flood. A flint board is constructed for threshing and that is towed throughout a subject to create one thing startlingly much like our trendy crop-circles. When an area potentate dies, a pregnant lady is thrown out of her home as a result of to have a child is taken into account impure on this time of grieving. The priest tells mourners to throw themselves into the grave. A horse should gallop till it dies; there’s a brutal closeup on the dying horse’s head, and in 1930 there was no squeamishness about stopping animal cruelty on a movie set. As soon as she has had her child, the brand new mom is on the verge of dying of thirst whereas everybody else drinks their fill. Finally, like a deus ex machina or the seventh Cavalry, a steamroller arrives, coated in upbeat Soviet slogans, to construct the street to civilisation and save Svanetia from itself.

This ballet of strangeness was Kalatozov’s pure response to the unknowability of a closed society, deeply completely different from his personal. It was a artistic response supplied in good religion, and spoke unconsciously of the Soviet coloniser’s emotions within the face of the huge attain of the Soviet empire and all of the peoples who had been very completely different from the secular city proletariat on whom the October Revolution was based. A cine-poem of awe.

Salt for Svanetia is out there from 29 September on Klassiki.

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