Summer film preview: Art, identity, violence and heroism

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Leonid Bichevin and Kristina Schneidermann in “Chagall-Malevich.” Photo © ShiM-Film Pictures

This summer’s film offerings are heavily sprinkled with foreign fare, much of it dealing with issues of ethnic identity, fundamentalism and genocide.
But art is the focus of the Russian movie “Chagall-Malevich,” a work of magical realism by filmmaker Aleksandr Mitta that highlights the competing styles of iconic Jewish artist Marc Chagall (Leonid Bichevin) and Kazimir Malevich (Anatoliy Belyy). The story follows Chagall from his birth to Chasidic parents, during a fire set by arsonists in the impoverished Jewish quarter of their Russian town, to Paris, where he enjoys some success as an artist, and then back to Russia and his marriage to Bella Rosenfeld (Kristina Schneidermann), the love of his life, with whom he has a daughter.

He establishes the Academy of Modern Art in his hometown of Vitebsk. When Malevich is invited to join the school’s faculty, a schism develops between the two painters, based on their diametrically opposed styles and artistic philosophies, and the rivalry is reflected in the attitude of the students, most of them siding with Malevich.
The action unfolds against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution that followed, the film depicting the influence of those historic events on the practice of art in Russia.
The movie is replete with replicas of Chagall’s colorful, fanciful, surreal work, much of it renderings of images from his early life in a Russian village, contrasted with the geometric abstractions of Malevich, who dubbed his style “Suprematism.”

In the press material, director Mitta is quoted as saying, “I’m very fond of Chagall. I admire Malevich for his radical thinking. He opened new horizons in art. I wanted to make a movie about them for a very long time. All characters of the film convey different ideas. Chagall symbolizes one idea. Malevich — another one. My film represents the struggle of these ideas in a tangle of emotions and desires at the moment when life is worth nothing, and art means everything.”
“Chagall-Malevich” opens June 19.

by Iris Mann
The Jewish Journal

Chagall-Malevich official website