ARSENAL (1929)

Alexander Dovzhenko’s poetic account of the events leading up to a bloody battle contains some of the most memorable images in Soviet cinema.
“Dovzhenko’s most intense and concentrated work, a fiery assembly of every kind of element of caricature, folklore, drama, all welded together into a single lyrical vision.” Schnitzer et al (eds), Cinema in Revolution, 1987 Made to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Arsenal focuses on a revolt in 1918 when workers at the Kiev ammunition factory supported the Bolsheviks against Ukrainian Nationalists. Arsenal is by no means an out-and-out celebration of revolution. The film questions the conflict’s morality by highlighting the turmoil and suffering that it causes, a tension increased by Alexander Dovzhenko’s startling visuals. Sequences of invigorating speed and motion are contrasted with images of deathly stillness. Starkly lit figures of crying children, legless soldiers and blackened corpses on snow recur throughout the film. While the fast-paced cutting and unusual camera angles suggest the excitement of revolution, they also convey the chaos it leaves in its wake. Earth (1930), Dovzhenko’s film exploring the natural cycle of life and death, is generally considered his masterpiece. Other major works include Ivan (1932) and Aerograd (1935).
1929 Ukrainian SSR, USSR
Directed by
Alexander Dovzhenko
Written by
Alexander Dovzhenko
Semyon Svashenko, Amvroziy Buchma, Mykola Nademsky
Running time
87 minutes