Home Movies: By the Bluest of Seas
By Patrick Friel
Boris Barnet's magical 1936 By the Bluest of Seas is one of the glories of Soviet cinema and, despite the director’s slowly growing reputation, unfortunately still too little known. The simple story concerns two friends, a mechanic and a sailor, shipwrecked and washed up at a collective farm/fishing community on the coast of Azerbaijan, who vie for the attentions of a young woman. The film has an out-of-time fable-like quality and shifts tone in a carefree, almost reckless, way. Barnet’s combination of light drama, comedy, romance, and songs transforms the government-sanctioned social realism of the day into something infectiously joyous and playful. Think Aleksandr Medvedkin’s 1934 Happiness minus the surreal strangeness. And, as French filmmaker Jean Epstein did in his contemporaneous Breton-based films, Barnet uses varied images of the sea (occasionally in slow motion) as a poetic motif throughout—its force and beauty paralleling and counterpointing the shifting emotions on shore. This is a film that positively hums with ebullience.