The sold-out “Chagall-Malevich” probably isn’t the best narrative movie in this year’s film festival, but it’s hard to imagine a more delightfully surprising entry.
Russian movies, especially those set in the early days of the revolution, are supposed to be dark, dreary and depressing. But Alexander Mitta’s creation is colorful, creative and uplifting. If you aren’t smiling at the end of “Chagall-Malevich,” you should see a cardiologist because your heart is surely two sizes too small.
Mitta’s magic is that he lets us see the world through the eyes of Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, whose incompatible views of artistic innovation turn their students into bitter rivals but rarely disturb the artists themselves. We see their art come to life around them, and we can appreciate a world that’s big enough for both of them.
The conflict and sadness in the film come from the inability or unwillingness of the Communist authorities to join us in seeing the world as the artists do. They are petty, small-minded and destructive, although a brief appearance by Leon Trotzky provides a glimpse at a non-Stalinist alternative path for the Soviet Union.
The movie itself is a lesson in the inevitable triumph of beauty and artistic truth over totalitarian sameness, but save any such deep thoughts for later. When you’re in the theater, just let the wonder and joy take you away.
— Michael Jacobs