As part of The Future Remains: Revisiting Revolution, Calvert 22 Foundation is pleased to present A poet in Russia is not just a poet, a series of three summer film screenings dedicated to the fate of Russian writers during and after the Revolution with director Roma Liberov.
The third and final film in the series explores the lives of Ilf and Petrov, Russia’s best known literary duo who wrote as if the Iron Curtain didn’t exist and birthed a new Soviet language.
2013, dir. Roma Liberov, 96 min.
Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov are the best known duo in the Russian literature, “though we’re neither brothers, nor even relatives”. Together they created a new Soviet language. Nabokov, who hated anything Soviet, made an exception to “those genius twins”. American writer Upton Sinclair, upon meeting them during their famous American journey, told them he never laughed more than when he read The Little Golden Calf. Even Mel Brooks turned their novel The Twelve Chairs into a film.
The Twelve Chairs; The Little Golden Calf; A Bright Personality; Single-Storied America; 1001 Days, or a New Scheherazade; and Unusual Stories from the Life of the Town of Kolokolamsk were brilliant works written by a duo known under a combination of their names: ILFANDPETROV.
Who has not heard this name? Who does not know about the adventures of Ostap Bender? About a stash of diamonds sewn into a chair? About the underground millionaire Koreiko? “The ice has started breaking up, gentlemen of the jury!”, “I will command the parade!”… Who does not on occasion exclaim: “No, this is not Rio de Janeiro”?
And what did the most famous Soviet writers Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov look like? What did they think about? Whom did they love? From what reality did they weave together their immortal texts? Why didn’t the adventures of Ostap, “re-trained as a building superintendent”, continue?
About the series
“Literature in Russia is a serious business. Especially in the 20th century.
The 1917 October Revolution was a ‘big bang’ that continues to be felt today. It was the start of a new era, one which was to devour innumerable victims.
As with many forms of art, literature became a form of propaganda. Only those texts that served the new authorities survived – those that promoted the idea of a new human being, the strengthening of the regime, and the swift establishment of communism.
Under these conditions, intellectuals came to occupy a rather unique position.
Having experienced some early success, Yuri Olesha found himself caught in the epoch’s grip, unable to speak his truth.
Joseph Brodsky was one of the only writers to win the full gamut of honours and awards, including the Nobel Prize. Despite this, he was thrown out of the country, where his wife, son and parents remained.
Georgiy Vladimirov, who published stories about concentration camps during the ‘Thaw’, also emigrated.
Sergey Dovlatov, another émigré, was barely visible in Russia – none of his books were published in Russia during his lifetime.
Ilf and Petrov, on the other hand, birthed a new Soviet language, working as if the Iron Curtain did not exist. But they were ‘lucky’ to die before their books became the subject of contempt.
Osip Mandelstam became unstable in the new epoch, declining into an acute state of illness. His time in a concentration camp destroyed him.
Literature in Russia is serious business.”