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Propaganda in art has always been a strong tool for a totalitarian system. The Soviet Union was no exception – movies often were used as a successful tool to promote and praise certain people and values. Here are six Soviet movies that were dedicated to the working-class heroes.
The Communist (1958)
The movie takes us back to 1918 – a very difficult period for the Soviet Union. There was still Russian Civil War going on and people had to choose which side to take – join the Communists or remain loyal to the monarchy. For the main hero of the movie Vasily Gubanov, the choice was obvious.
He is assigned to supervise the storage near one of the important construction sites. As a devoted Communist, Gubanov takes this job seriously and with great enthusiasm. Despite being caught in obscure times, the main hero fears no one and is ready to challenge anyone, who dares to steal construction materials or food from the working class. His figure might seem a bit idealized at times, but there are episodes when Gubanov shows some of his dilemmas, in regards to a woman that he loves. Overall, his character fits the image of a true Communist. There is no doubt that there were many prototypes of Gubanov in real life. Otherwise, it would be impossible to establish the Soviet Union and win the Civil War.
The Communist is a movie about sacrifice, devotion and overcoming the odds to build a new state for the ordinary, working-class people. The brilliant and emotional portrayal of Gubanov by the legendary Evgeniy Urbanskiy takes the movie to another level. You will see that the actor put his heart and soul in this movie.
The Miners of Donetsk (1951)
The title explains itself. This is a classic Stalin-era movie about the life of ordinary coal miners in the Donetsk region. Stalin himself is constantly mentioned, quoted and portrayed in this movie as an inspirational figure for the working-class people.
The plot of the movie is about the implementation of the new coal-mining machine in one of the Donbass coal mines in the post-war period. It shows the Soviet technological progress and transition from one generation of miners to another. Engineers and miners have to face various challenges in this transition process. The new mining machine causes challenges – engineer struggles to implement it. For the ordinary miners, it is a sign that they have to learn a new profession, related to the mining machine. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about such changes.
There is a lot of pathos, idealistic speeches and praise of the Soviet leader throughout the movie. The plot has some naive moments. Nevertheless, it fits the era and atmosphere when the movie was produced. This period was full of struggle; the Soviet Union was recovering from the devastating World War II and the creation of such kind of propaganda movies made sense. Working-class deserved to be praised to the masses.
Time, Forward! (1965)
The movie takes us back to the 30’s, when the Soviet Union saw a great wave of industrialization all around the country. The main heroes are construction workers of the Magnitogorsk industrial complex. In addition to the importance of the new iron & steelworks, there is also portrayed as the competitive spirit of the workers’ brigades. When they find out that in Kharkov there was set a new record, there begins a challenging competition with various obstacles on their way. All this – in the name of Socialistic glory.
The movie was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. Protagonists are portrayed as a dedicated and hard-working people, while in contrast – some characters do not want to work and they eventually are expelled from the collective for their careless attitude. Overall, everything is depicted on a positive note; it is a true labor propaganda movie, because in real life – 30’s were not the easiest period to live for the working-class people. Industrialization took a great toll on the ordinary workers and all the achievements of this era were made thanks to the heroic and in some cases, inhuman workload. In the movie, everything looks much more positive than it was.
The Big Ore (1964)
The main hero of this movie is a young truck driver Viktor Pronyakin. After service in the army, he joins a large ore mine. From the first day, he faces different challenges. The experienced brigadier gives Pronyakin an old truck that needs serious repair works. However, the ambitious driver is not afraid of challenges and after he repairs the old truck, he starts to work in the mining camp. Fellow drivers do not share the same enthusiasm and at some point, the newcomer becomes unwelcome in the collective of these truck drivers.
Besides some propaganda type of moments that show the hard-working nature of the main hero and his great desire to work under any conditions, there is also another interesting and opposing storyline. It shows that a common worker/driver had to be like everyone else and overly enthusiastic individuals could easily become the outcasts in their collective.
For every driver, there was a certain amount of daily trips to the mine to be made. If the weather was bad, it was a day-off for everyone, but not Pronyakin. This caused tensions. Do as much as it is asked, but not more than that – this was the principle of the whole driver’s collective. A similar problem could be often seen in the real-life as well. The collective spirit should always be above individual ambitions. The creators of this movie did a good job showing both sides of the Soviet working class reality.
The Chairman (1964)
After the end of World War II, Yegor Trubnikov returns to his native village to become the chairman of the local kolkhoz. War was devastating in all terms; most of the country had to be rebuilt from the ruins. Trubnikov faces several obstacles on the way to his goal. For him – war is not over. Despite all his sacrifices in war, Trubnikov accepts his new role. Nevertheless, local villagers doubt him and forced conjecture of the Communist party slows down the re-birth of the kolkhoz. However, the war-hardened chairman shows true courage and army-like leadership skills to inspire the villagers.
Unlike other movies, The Chairman concentrates on the role and importance of leadership. Someone with an iron fist, who is not afraid to take the responsibility in an uneasy post-war period. It shows the collective spirit and relationship drama at some points as well, but Trubnikov and his personal war against the world remain the central storyline of the movie.
The performance of Mikhail Ulyanov in the role of strong-willed Trubnikov made a great impression. The actor was awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize for this role.
The Premium (1974)
Slightly different kind of movie, compared to those above. All the action in The Premium is cut to the minimum. Its beauty hides in simplicity. Dialogues are the cornerstone of this movie. It tells about an ongoing conflict on the construction site. One of the worker’s brigades does not want to accept the bonus for their work. Such a decision is against the logic and does not make any sense, so brigadier Potapov has to explain his stance in the party committee meeting. Most of the debates in the movie take place in a single cabinet, but tensions remain high.
The movie presents typical Soviet values, like high work ethic and honesty. However, to bring up such a topic when workers decide to create a precedent that goes against the usual logic is a clearly brave move by the creators of this movie. In 1974, it was still a bad tone to ask questions that could undermine or throw a shadow on the Communism system. On the paper, there were no flaws, while in reality the five-year plan was not always running smoothly and bureaucracy often messed up everything. The Premium tells about the flaws in the system, but on a contrast – it also displays the honest values the Soviet workers had.
The selection of actors is worth mentioning. Evgeny Leonov, Oleg Yankovskiy, Mihail Gluzskiy and other legends of the Soviet cinematography only adds the value and quality to this movie.