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  • On Pozner and Laurent's Kinojudaica
  • Catherine Portuges
Kinojudaica: Les représentations des Juifs dans le cinéma de Russie et d'Union soviétique, des années 1910 aux années 1980. Edited by Valérie Pozner and Natacha Laurent. Toulouse/Paris: La Cinémathèque de Toulouse/Nouveau Monde éditions, 2012. 585 pp., ISBN 978-2847365757 (pb). €34.50

Film historians Valérie Pozner and Natacha Laurent's coedited volume, Kinojudaica: Les représentations des Juifs dans le cinéma de Russie et d'Union soviétique, des années 1910 aux années 1980, makes a major contribution to film historiography, in an anthology of thirteen chapters by researchers from France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. At the juncture of literature, cinema, Jewish history, and politics, this French-language volume greatly expands our knowledge of the representation of Jews in Russian and Soviet cinema. The volume is based on a retrospective—organized by the Cinémathèque de Toulouse (for which Laurent serves as executive director)—of thirty-one films produced between 1912 and 1967, some twenty of which had remained sealed in former KGB archives and were made available to the editors by the Cinémathèque de Toulouse in collaboration with the Moscow Cinematheque.

The editors' ambitious compendium integrates fiction, documentary, newsreels, and animation under the rubric of "Jewish themes," recalling the visionary Cinémathèque française director Henri Langlois's credo that the art of film programming, with its synergistic juxtapositions, confrontations, and unexpected [End Page 109] connections, can be seen as tantamount to a (re)-writing of film history. The volume's thematic categories include: (1) ciné-judéité, an interrogation of representational modalities of Jewish identity in films from 1910 to 1940; (2) cinema as a tool of propaganda, referencing political uses of cinema in the Soviet Union; (3) devant la Shoah, with three major contributions on images of Jewish genocide; (4) Jews near and far, proposing a broader exploration of Jews abroad as figured by Soviet cinema; and (5) reality/fiction, focusing on the construction of major figures in Jewish culture.

Each essay is rigorously contextualized within its historical framework, from close readings to auteur studies. Valérie Pozner's detailed contribution foregrounds the lost world of cinema from the Russian Empire of 1910–1918, including some 120 films from so-called Jewish studios in the Pale of Settlement which portray traditional Jewish life in films that have, for the most part, sadly disappeared. Éric Le Roy extends and complements Pozner's work in a piece on La Vie des Juifs en Palestine (Noah Sokolovsky, France, 1913) and the role of cinema in the Zionist movement. Claire Le Fol considers films produced by the Belarusian film studio in the 1920s and 1930s, and Éric Aunoble examines the "Jewish Commune" through newsreels shot on collective farms from 1927 to 1939. Alexandre Ivanov explores the history of Birobidzhan (USSR, 1937)—footage from the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive (RGAKFD) in Krasnogorsk, Russia, produced in 1937 for the Universal Exposition—complicating questions of narrative perspective in Soviet documentary films of that era. Oksana Bulgakova's comparative study considers The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, USA, 1940) and Jud Süss (Veit Harlan, Germany, 1940) in the context of early Soviet films about anti-Semitism.

Coeditor Natacha Laurent integrates the rise of anti-Semitism in the 1940s and 1950s through the lens of multiple Stalin Prize–winning filmmaker Mikhaïl Romm's attempts to reconcile his socialist and Jewish identities. (His Ordinary Fascism [1964], in accordance with Soviet policy, does not reference Jews as particular victims.) Pozner also focuses on films commissioned by the Central Committee to counter the rise of anti-Semitism in the USSR. Olga Gershenson retraces the genesis of The Unvanquished (Mark Donskoï, 1945), adapted from a novel by Boris Gorbatov and shot in the studios of Kiev. The film was supported by both Romm and Sergei Eisenstein, with a controversial location sequence reconstructing the massacre of Babi Yar. Jeremy Hicks's compelling account of Roman Karmen and Elizaveta Svilova's Sud Narodov/The Peoples' Tribunal [End Page 110] (USSR, 1946) analyzes the fraught production...


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