Soviet Film Wednesday: Enchanted Desna

Enchanted Desna

Enchanted Desna is a film that gives us insight into the mind of Aleksandr Dovzhenko as a child, growing up by the Desna river. Directed by Yuliya Solntseva, the film is an “autobiographical film story” by her husband, Aleksandr Dovzhenko.

Both thought-provoking and beautiful, the film elicits memories and introspection from its viewers. For instance, the simplicity of watching young Aleksandr plan his day in a scene at the beginning of the film, thinking about where he could go to greet someone, conjures childhood memories of wonder, exploration, and free time. There’s also something splendorous in watching a place and time where most of the people spend their days in fields and gardens. And this place truly does look enchanted, rich in nature and shrouded in mist.

Dovzhenko also recounts war on the bank of the river, depicted in scenes of smoke and fire, and perhaps most notably, the ferryman’s monologue condemning Ukrainian soldiers for fleeing from battle, accusing them of abandoning their homeland.

Finally, the narrator returns to an industrialized Desna. Visually, the image of jutting buildings and bulldozed land is a sharp contrast to the paradisal, albeit poverty-laden childhood scenes. Dovzhenko reflects on the past, “one should never forget and always remember that people need artists to show the world the beauty of life. It’s a strange and pitiful thing that we sometimes lack the power and clarity of spirit to fathom life’s daily happiness, and that therefore so much beauty passes before our eyes unnoticed.”

Jean-Luc Godard said of Enchanted Desna, “(this is a film) about which I don’t know what to say critically, which gave me the feeling of having a lot to learn.” Godard lauded Enchanted Desna as the best movie of 1965.