English Title: Farewell

Original Title: Proshchanie

Country of Origin: Soviet Union

Studio: Mosfilm

Director: Elem Klimov

Screenplay: German Klimov, Larisa Shepit'ko, Rudol'f Tiurin

Cinematographer: Aleksei Rodionov, Iurii Skhirtladze

Art Director: Viktor Petrov

Runtime: 130 minutes

Genre: Literary Adaptation/Historical

Language: Russian

Starring/Cast: Lev Durov, Iurii Katin-Iartsev, Aleksei Petrenko, Maia Bulgakova, Vadim Iakovenko, Stefaniia Staniuta

Year: 1982

Volume: Russian

The film is set over the last weeks of summer and the onset of autumn during the Brezhnev era. The inhabitants of a small island community in Siberia prepare to leave their homes in preparation for the flooding of the entire area as part of a huge hydroelectric dam project further up river. The film focuses on the reactions of three members of the Pinigin family covering three generations: the younger Andrei (Vadim Iakovenko), who is committed to the process of modernization; his father Pavel (Lev Durov), aware that progress is inevitable though painful; and his grandmother Dar’ia (Stefaniia Staniuta), who represents the values of the past, fears their passing and the destruction of her community.

The film is based on the 1976 novella (povest’) ‘Farewell to Matera’ by Valentin Rasputin, generally considered to be the last great work of ‘village prose’ of the 1960s–1970s, and one which thematically and stylistically brought that movement to a close. The film was to be directed by Larisa Shepit’ko, but she, along with cameraman Vladimir Chukhnov and art director Iurii Fomenko, was killed in a car accident in 1979. Her husband, Elem Klimov, then took on and completed the project in 1982, though the film was released only in 1984. Rasputin’s work is suffused with a mysticism that is meant to symbolize the link of past and present in this rural community. The island community represents the transience of human life in the never-ending waters of time, and the island itself is protected by the spirit of the past.

The very name ‘Matera’ evokes notions of Mother Russia and Mother Earth. Klimov’s film plays down the us-and-them antagonisms between the planners and the villagers, showing not the relentless workings of ideology, but rather emphasizing that even those in charge of the implementation of plans drawn up in distant Moscow are victims of impersonal social processes. Shots of the chaotic urban settlement where the villagers are to be resettled reinforce the impression that those making key decisions affecting people’s everyday lives bear no accountability for the grim consequences of their actions. Some of Rasputin’s symbolism remains, such as that of destruction by fire and water, suggesting the end of the world, and old and young, with the implication that official teleology is rejected. Shniitke’s evocative music further suggests the link between the villagers and their ancestral past. Both Rasputin and Klimov stress the link of these villagers with the land that for centuries was the home of their forebears, and the film features a scene of communal bathing in the river that is reminiscent of the scene of the pagans’ ‘festival’ in Andrei Tarkovskii’s Andrei Rublev (1966). Rasputin’s original novel is linguistically complex, containing many words and phrases peculiar to the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, making the work difficult even for other Russians not native to Siberia, but also aligning the author with the victims of progress. Klimov wisely uses standard Russian throughout the film, but keeps Rasputin’s vague, possibly tragic ending. A few villagers remain on the island as the floodgates are about to open and the island will disappear in the ensuing deluge, and a boat sets off to rescue them. The boat gets lost in the fog, the villagers remain on the island and both novel and film end at this point. Time remains suspended, history does not move forward and the future remains uncertain.

Author of this review: David Gillespie