Imagine two formations of dots, apparently identical except that one is in colors and the other black-and-white. As you back away from the colored dots, they form themselves into a painting, one of those slow, sunshiny Seurats of a dazzlingly quiet afternoon. But if you move back from the black-and-white dots, you find they are part of a newspaper photograph depicting poor and bewildered families being executed by a police firing squad.
This is the cinemagraphic effect of "A Slave of Love," a Soviet film of tremendous visual sensuality. The director, Nikita Mikhalkov, had a great-grandfather and a grandfather who were prominent Russian painters. The use here of carelessly dropped flowers, of a yellow streetcar crossing a plain, of a scarf being tossed into a sudden wind is true art made of moving pictures, only possible through both film and motion.
"A Slave of Love" juxtaposes two forms of life in Russia just after the October Revolution, when the old luxuries still existed for some and others were still shooting it out for control of the nation. But the characters here are not aristocrats and revolutionaries, they are film actors who are playing at each.
A film company is making a corny silent movie in the Crimea. The handsome leading man has decided to stay in Moscow and be a Bolshevik, so another leading man, one who can only be a pretty face because he has a high, silly voice, must be engaged.
"We are like children forgotten in a nursery while the house is on fire," says one of the filmmakers as they go about their business in sylvan settings. Mostly, these childlike people are playing at being artists. The star, Elena Solovei, at first remains in that nursery-like confinement, playing at being a kind of pop Grand Duchess by changing her clothes and collecting adulation. However, a cameraman, Rodion Nakhapetov, who is equally pretty, has discovered the game of playing with the fire. The star wants to join him. The two of them, in their lovely white clothing, will play romance and revolution at the same time. "It's wonderful," she tells him breathlessly in his white roadster, "to be wrapped up in a cause for which you can be imprisoned or killed!"
And so they are. He films street brutality, and she helps him hide the film. It is every bit as dramatic as the feature films they are making. The black-and-white of the films-within-the-film are startlingly woven into the bright world of the filmmakers.
But this is no primitive contrast of "pretend" versus "reality." Each world is as melodramatic as the other, and the consequences of venturing outside the nursery are as ridiculously swashbuckling as any of the games the children invented themselves.
"Only talentless people have no enemies," says the company's director bitterly. But he is proved wrong. People who worry about the proper way to dress for a revolution can also get hurt when the world turns dramatic.
A SLAVE OF LOVE: Outer Circle 1.