Outskirts

Mr Bongo Films/Boris Barnet/1933/Soviet Union

Running Time: 99 minutes

Region Code: Region Free/PAL

Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Video: DVD5

Audio: Russian 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: Optional English

Completing the double bill of Boris Barnet re-releases, courtesy of Mr Bongo Films, is the remarkable, visceral and highly ambitious, 1933 war drama ‘Outskirts’, arguably Barnet’s finest achievement, and widely considered to be one of the greatest works in Russian cinema. Barnet’s first sound picture, ‘Outskirts’ proves one of the great, inventive works to emanate from the early sound era, in terms of the highly inventive audio and visual techniques utilised in the film, and it is astonishing that both the film and the director have remained ‘forgotten’ for so long.

Playing out during World War I, in a small Russian village on the Russo-German border, Barnet brilliantly centres on this small village community to depict the harrowing and devastating effects of both World War I, or ‘The Great War’, and the forthcoming Russian Revolution. Clearly influenced by the great Soviet masters before him, most notably Sergei Eisenstein, Barnet cleverly opens the film with a poetic and lyrical montage of a picturesque village, played out to music and natural sound effects, showcasing the hardworking civilians in this serene, close knit community as they go about their daily grind, before strikingly shattering the established peace and harmony with the loud ring of a factory siren, brilliantly utilising the power of sound, to announce the first signs of the Russian Revolution.

Though he could quite easily have detailed the war on a grand scale, incorporating major political figures and events, by very effectively honing in on the innocent everyday villagers, the film suddenly becomes much more relevant, emotional and ultimately more powerful, as the audience can instantly relate to the realistic and naturally crafted characters they are introduced to. As the days unfold, and as the war tragically shatters the community we have grown to know, the film switches between the events in the village and life on the front line, as we see the absurd effects of trench warfare, played out to some light, black humour, whilst back in the village, cultures and beliefs clash as we witness the destructive power of Nationalism, enhanced by the developing relationship between a young Russian girl and a German ‘Prisoner Of War’, met with great disapproval and hostility from her family and the returning veterans, struggling to readapt to normality.

‘Outskirts’ was made 3-years prior to ‘By The Bluest Of Seas’ (see review), the other Barnet film now re-released by Mr Bongo Films, so in terms of picture and audio quality the film appears in much the same way as the latter. Again, as the film is now almost into its 80th anniversary year, there are major signs of dirt, damage, lines and speckling present throughout the film, and it puzzles me why, when this is considered one of the greatest works in Russian cinema, it has not been afforded the major restoration is desperately requires and deserves from a big budget studio. In comparison to the Hyperkino edition or the Region 1 Image Entertainment release, this release offers marginally stronger levels of detail, texture, contrast and definition, thankfully with no signs of any digital manipulation or DNR to detract from the significance and authenticity of the film, maintaing a nice layer of natural grain, age and texture. There are some issues with image softness and clarity, and the brightness levels are tweaked just slightly too high at times, but overall, this is the best available version of the film, beautifully highlighting the outstanding cinematography of Mikhail Kirillov and A. Spiridonov, and the supreme artistry and genius of Barnet.

Like ‘By The Bluest Of Seas’, the 2.0 Mono audio presentation again suffers from age, with crackling and hiss to be heard throughout the film, however, the poignant dialogue and inventive audio effects and techniques are effectively showcased , with the stirring, emotive score from the Russian and Soviet composer, Sergei Vasilenko, given an forceful boost.

No Special Features

Overall:

‘Outskirts’ is an outstanding piece of filmmaking, incorporating wonderful cinematic techniques, stunning cinematography and beautifully balanced dialogue, to deliver a truly harrowing, intimate and enduring experience, and though made 80-years ago, it continues to feel very modern in the way it is achieved. Highly recommended.

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