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“July Rain” by Marlen Khutsiev

Soviet New Wave film captures the end of the Khrushchev Thaw.

Photo via Polfilm/East News

Shot in dramatic black-and-white, Marlen Khutsiev’s “July Rain” depicts the final moments of the fleeting thaw period that followed Stalin's death. The film starts in an almost documentary fashion, as the camera leads viewers through the streets of Moscow, plunging into the crowd until it finds the protagonist – Lena, a young woman whose seemingly idyllic life is about to undergo changes that reflect the anxiety of the period. 

At first, the daily life of Lena and her boyfriend brings nothing more than a sense of warm nostalgia, but, as if anticipating the upcoming political stagnation, the film's tone gradually becomes less optimistic and their careless existence is rendered an illusion. As the seasons change, Lena’s alienation becomes more apparent. Disillusioned by the indifference and superficiality of her friends and relationships, tired of small talk, songs and dancing, Lena finds refuge in telephone conversations with a stranger she met briefly during a summer rainstorm. 

Despite the relative artistic freedom that characterized the Khrushchev Thaw, Khustiev's portrayal of post-war youth didn't reflect the view of the officials and was often attacked and banned. Influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni and New Wave cinema, Khutsiev's “July Rain” is an ode to a generation of Muscovites lost in their dreams and deprived of genuine warmth. Yet the final sequence of the film, shot at a World War II veterans’ reunion, suggests a deeper concern for the historical narrative and context, rather than the peculiarities of the characters’ stories.