Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism : Birkbeck University of London
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The Commissar

Film screening with panel discussion

Speakers: Professor Marat Grinberg, Reed College, Oregon; Professor Jeremy Hicks, Queen Mary, University of London; Dr Rachel Morley, University College London
Date: Sun, Apr. 15, 2018
Time:  2:00pm - 5:15pm
Venue: Birkbeck, University of London, Room B33, Torrington Square main entrance, WC1E 7HX
Free event open to all:

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The Commissar (Aleksandr Askoldov, 1967) is regarded as one of the most important films of the Soviet era, yet it was banned for over 20 years.

Based on a short story by Russian Jewish writer Vasilii Grossman, the film chronicles the dramatic journey of a pregnant Red Army commissar during the Russian Revolution. As the birth of her child reaches ever nearer, the committed commissar is forced to stay with a Jewish family near the frontline of the battle between the Red and White Armies. Originally scheduled for release in 1967, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Askoldov’s first and only film was shelved by the censors due to its frank portrayal of antisemitism and pogromist violence in the wake of the Revolution. Askoldov was in turn expelled from the Communist Party and banned from making films for life.

In the panel discussion following the screening, speakers will explore issues the film raises about both antisemitism and gender in the Russian Revolution. How is antisemitism represented and why did this prove so controversial to the Soviet authorities? In what ways did the film’s intended release during the Six Day War of 1967 shape its reception? How is gender and Soviet womanhood depicted in the film? And how does The Commissar compare with other representations of the Holocaust and gender in Soviet cinema? Chair: Dr Brendan McGeever, Acting Associate Director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism.

About the panel speakers: Marat Grinberg is a scholar of Russian and Soviet literature and cinema and author of Aleksandr Askoldov The Commissar (Intellect, 2016), a book-length study of the film; and Jeremy Hicks is a specialist on the Holocaust in Soviet Cinema; and Laura Mulvey is a renowned feminist film theorist.

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