PODSTROCHNIK

A child of the 1920s, Lilianna Lungina was a Russian Jew born to privilege, spending her childhood in Germany, France, and Palestine. But after her parents moved to the USSR when she was thirteen, Lungina became witness to many of the era’s greatest upheavals. Exiled during World War II, dragged to KGB headquarters to report on her cosmopolitan friends, and subjected to her new country’s ruthless, systematic anti-Semitism, Lungina nonetheless carved out a remarkable career as a translator who introduced hundreds of thousands of Soviet readers to Knut Hamsun, August Strindberg, and, most famously, Astrid Lindgren. In the process, she found herself at the very center of Soviet cultural life, meeting and befriending Pasternak, Brodsky, Solzhenitsyn, and many other major figures of the era’s literature. Oleg Dorman's brilliant film, which became a sensation when finally released over 4 nights on Russian television in 2009, fully captures her extraordinary life ― at once heartfelt and unsentimental ― is an unparalleled tribute to a lost world.

Director: Oleg Dorman

Cast: Lilianna Lungina 

Producers: Felix Dektor, Oleg Dorman, Irina Martynova

Director of Photography: Vadim Yusov

Second Camera: Rodion Varshavsky

English Translation: Anna Zakharyeva

A 15 Episode Documentary Series

Language: Russian w/ English subtitles

Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and educational institutions that offers viewers free access to a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries. Check if your library has access HERE.

What is Kanopy?

"There is a problem with this film. It's a simple problem which cost us 10 years persuading producers and then broadcasters to finish and present the film. “Podstrochnik” is out of genre. It's neither a film about the history of Russia in the 20th century (though it also is), nor a story of a woman (though it, of course, is). If one needs to decide on which "shelf" to put it, then choose the one with fiction. Or displace your Proust set to memoirs."

Oleg Dorman

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Young Lilianna's parents decide to move the family from the chaos of post revolution Moscow to Berlin, but a threatening phone call has her father returning to Russia, leaving she and her mother to fend for themselves.

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To make ends meet, Lilianna's mother opens a puppet theater. Lilianna adjust to her French life, but notices that her mother and father have begun corresponding. By 1934, the two of them begin the long journey back to Moscow.

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In Koktebel, Crimea, Lilianna and her mother are invited to stay at the home of the widow of the well-known writer, translator, artist, Maximilian Voloshin. Lilianna, charmed by the surroundings, stays on longer and meets her first love interest, Yura Shakhovsky.

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Filled with regret and longing, Lilianna describes the death of her father. Her friendships with poets, artists and radical-minded professors leads to her being brought in for questioning at KGB headquarters.

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The start of World War II. Poverty stricken and fleeing the advancing German troops, Lilianna must choose between helping in the war effort or leaving Moscow with her panic stricken mother. Opting for the latter, they head off to provincial Naberezhnye Chelny, where Lilianna finds work at a local newspaper.

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Post-war Russia. Lilianna is invited to a New Year's party where she meets a young director and fledging screenwriter Semyon Lungin. Two weeks later they meet again and from that moment forward they will never part.

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Lilianna, in her early 40s with two children, finds Astrid Lindgren's "Karlsson On the Roof", which leads to her new life as a translator. Meanwhile, Semyon's writing career finally begins taking off.

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Lilianna writes a letter to the now leader, Yury Andropov, with the hope of traveling with Semyon to Europe. After returning from a long journey of over 11 months, Semyon suffers a 3rd heart attack and dies. In the end, Lilianna suggests that we should look closely at people around us; to trouble ourselves to try and see what they have within them. That perhaps it can be a narrow path leading to some joy.

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1930 Germany. Signs of fascism have Lilianna and her mother on the move again, this time for Palestine, where a grandmother awaits, and with a new hated step-father, Ludwig, in tow. Within a scant few months, mother and daughter are heading to Paris...without Ludwig.

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Lilianna's father wants to instill the virtues of the Soviet system into his daughter, but Lilianna, now 14, does not fit in with the monolithic nature of this new society and struggles to find her voice.

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With the backdrop of Stalin's arrests, Lilianna becomes immersed in the richness of school life at the expense of her relationship with her parents. 17 now, she applies for a spot at the highly competitive Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History.

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Lillianna writes her first article about a newly created theater movement and convinces the editor of Moscow Komsomoletz to publish it. Around the same time, the poetess, Marina Tsvetaeva, her latest work unjustifiably rejected, starts a downward spiral leading to her eventual suicide.

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National anti-semitism is on the rise as Lilianna makes a clandestine trip back to Moscow. Her mother stays behind in Naberezhnye Chelny, but the years there were hard on her and soon after returning to the Capital with Lilianna, as the war is ebbing, she dies.

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Stalin dies and Khrushchev takes power. A thaw on the reign of terror is in the air. Banned books are published. Men and women return from labor camps. Lilianna opines on the arduous nature of intellectual courage.

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Lilianna invites, Lida and her husband Jipe, childhood friends from her long ago life in France, to Russia and is mortified to discover that they are communist sympathizers. A transcription from the Brodsky trial taking place in Leningrad, leads to an epiphany.

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Podstrochnik