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The Children of Ivan Kuzmich

A 1996 documentary about a school for the Russian elite and its extraordinary principal, Ivan Kuzmich, who maintained the school’s integrity and “respect for individuality” over many decades of Soviet rule. The narration creates a sense of foreboding right from the start: students entering in the late 20s, we’re told, could not know that the future would bring “times of terror, years of war.” Through much of this hour-long video, every reference to the achievements of the school and its principal is followed by another reference to the devastation of Stalin’s terror and World War II. Director Marina Goldovskaya weaves together past and present, interspersing contemporary interviews with former students, family snapshots of them as children, and archival footage of the school and Moscow a half century ago. But the back-and-forth structure constantly pulls the ground out from under us; shot full of holes, the film ultimately becomes a moving evocation of the unshowable–mass murder. Before long the narrator doesn’t have to say much: when a former student remembering a book-filled home is followed by Stalin overseeing a parade, we understand. Mercifully, the film ends on an optimistic note: after we learn that Kuzmich was devastated by losing control of the school, Goldovskaya presents a reunion of his former pupils, products of his belief that “without knowledge a person cannot become whole.” School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan, room 1311, Tuesday, March 31, 4:30, 312-345-3588.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.