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Dom Na Trubnoi / The House on Trubnaya Square

Posted by keith1942 on September 28, 2010

USSR 1928.

Directed by Boris Barnet. Produced at the Mezhrapom-Rus Studio, the most commercial of the Soviet production companies.

Running 66 minutes at 24 fps: unfortunately reel five is missing.

Screened as part of The Canon Revisited at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2009.

As the Festival catalogue points out the film does not have the status of a ‘classic’ as it is extremely difficult to see. Apparently it is only available on DVD in France. Hopefully the warm reception at the Giornate will motivate someone to remedy this sad state of affairs.

The House on Trubnaya Square is that rare feature, a montage comedy. It is marvellously funny and makes exemplary use of Soviet montage techniques. Barnet had worked, as an assistant director on Lev Kuleshov’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (Neobychainiye priklucheniya Mistera Vesta v stranye bolshevikov, 1924), and was apparently also, for a time, a member of DzigaVertov’s ‘workshop’. His favoured genre appears to have been comedy.

“Speaking generally about my attitude towards cinema, I like comedy best of all. I like to insert amusing scenes into dramas and dramatic scenes into comedies, but of course it’s all a matter of proportion.

With a few obvious exceptions, all my films, for better or worse, deal with contemporary life and its problems. When I have an option, I have always chosen contemporary subjects, even though it is not always easy to tackle these.” [Interview in Eisenschitz, 1991].

The interweaving of the comic and dramatic can be seen in this feature film. Barnet continued working as a director, and sometime actor, in the Soviet industry into the 1960s. The House on Trubnaya Square also enjoyed the services of a team of four scriptwriters, an unusually large number for the period and suggestive of concerns over content. However, according to an article by Bernard Eisenschitz [Eisenschitz, 1991] there seems to have been little in common between a published script and the actual finished film.

Yuri Tsivian set the scene for this film in the Festival Catalogue:

“There exists a sad story used more than once in Russian silent films and in Russia’s soulful prose. A young peasant woman comes to the city carrying all she has – a goose or a duck in a basket. Overwhelmed by the crowd and frightened by the trams, she spends the night in a park only to be spotted by a brothel owner, or, if in luck, to find a low-wage job as a nurse or maid in a rich man’s house. In the next reel her employer or his son seduces the peasant girl, and, with a baby on her hands, she returns to her village, where no one is willing to take her back.”

As Tsivian points out this film apparently revisits the genre, but then offers an unexpected twist.

The opening introduces the House on Trubnaya: presented round a central staircase with various floors and flats. This set provides a site for comedy and satire, with some inventive tracks and tilts up and down its length. Two Intertitles inform us, ‘The City sleeps’. And ‘The City wakens’, accompanied by shots of urban activity. [This opening bears some resemblance to that of Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera / Chelovek s kinoapparatom, 1929]. Then we meet the apparently stereotypical village heroine, Parasha (Vera Maretskaia), who has arrived in Moscow laden with all her belongings, including a duck. Bewildered and lost she wanders into the path of an oncoming tram. At this point Barnet introduces a freeze frame, and an Intertitle addresses the audience, ‘How Parasha came to be in Moscow?’

The film proceeds to fill out the story. Parasha has come to Moscow to seek her uncle but finds he has moved. Fortunately the driver of the tram, Semyon [Vladimir Batalov], is from her village. This is how Parasha comes to reside at Trubnaya Square. Here she works as a maid for the hairdresser Golikov [Vladimir Fogel]. Golikov is an example of an entrepreneur who exploits his servants: Parasha is the latest in a line of serving girls who endure service. Golikov is clearly a satire on the Nepmen, entrepreneurs who were able to trade and profit in the period of the New Economic Policy.

The films also satirises the less than utopian behaviour of the workers in the Trubnaya flats. The staircase provides the site for a continuing battle between Soviet order and individualist fecklessness. The feckless behaviour includes dumping rubbish and using the landings for wood chopping. The battle against this individualist disorder is led by Fenia (Ada Voitsik), also a union organiser. She is one of the alternative model proletarians, the citizens of the new Soviet world. The other lead model is the driver Semyon, a union member. Fenia befriends Parasha and encourages her to demand her entitlements.

Class contradictions come to a head at certain points in the narrative. First, there is a revolutionary dramatic performance at the workers’ club. [This is a rare example of such a club featuring in a Soviet film]. The topic is the Storming of the Bastille [during the French Revolution, a harbinger of that which had occurred in Russia in 1917]. Thanks to an excess of alcohol by one of the performers Golikov has to take the stage as a general leading the reaction. His violent stage actions are too much for Parasha who rushes from the audience to join in on stage and attack his reactionary character.

The later event is the elections to the Moscow Soviet. Parasha attends an election meeting with her friend Fenia. Part of these events occur in the missing reel. A resident at the Square, Marina, hears what she thinks is Parasha’s name read out in the election results. On hearing the news the other residents prepare to welcome Parasha, including finally cleaning up the staricase.  Golikov and his wife, now wishing to impress an elected representative, arrange a dinner party for Parasha, and invite their petit bourgeois friends. Then Golikov discovers the error. When the truth outs Parasha is sacked.

However Fenia encourages her to demand unpaid emollients, including untaken holidays and a discharge payment. The film ends with the suggestion of a romance with Semyon as Parasha takes up a proper proletarian job and Golikov receives punishment for the frequent beatings administered to the serving girls. And Fenia celebrates: at last, the Trubnaya House staircase is clean, tidy and in order.

The film makes use of a variety of techniques, not just editing [as is the case with Soviet montage films generally]. There is the integration of sets and locations; a range in camera use from long shot to close up; tracks, pans and tilts. The variety matches and dramatises the plot, which is an amalgam of speed, change and zany actions.

A number of other films by Barnet are viewed favourably by writers but all remain difficult to see at present. Bernard Eisenschiz article, A fickle man, or portrait of Boris Barnet as a Soviet Director discusses many of these. The article is included in Inside the Film Factory New approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema, edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, Published by Routledge in 1991.

Stills supplied by the Giornate del Cinema Muto, courtesy of Gosfilmofond, Moscow.

3 Responses to “Dom Na Trubnoi / The House on Trubnaya Square”

  1. Title…

    This is my Excerpt…

  2. […] Interesting historical context on the film at Cinetext. […]

  3. […] Interesting historical context on the film at Cinetext. […]

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