UKRAINIAN SILENT COMEDY “PIGS WILL BE PIGS”
Germany has passed over to Ukraine the silent comedy Pigs Will Be Pigs (1930), which was made at Odessa Film Factory of Ukrainfilm in 1930 by director Khanan Shmain.
The film, which had been considered lost, was found in 2015 in German Federal Archives by Russian film researcher Piotr Bagrov.
On August 22, 2016, thanks to the Ukrainian Embassy in Germany, seven reels on positive and negative film were added to the Film Archive of Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre.
“Films like Pigs… are found rarely and, most often, by accident, because, unfortunately, Dovzhenko Centre does not yet have the resources for comprehensive study of foreign film archives. Some of them, such as the Czech, Yugoslavian, German, French and Japanese archives, definitely still have a lot of Ukrainian silent films that are now considered lost. Some of them can considerably change the way we see early Ukrainian cinema today,” commented Ivan Kozlenko, Director of Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, on the return of the film.
It should be mentioned that comedies are the most rare genre among the surviving Ukrainian films of the silent era, as, due to the criticism and ridiculing of the social vices of the times, they were the first to be banned even before they hit the screens. Today we know of only five surviving Ukrainian silent comedies, among which Pigs… is one of the best.
Pigs… is a witty, satirical comedy, which makes fun of the Soviet bureaucracy, hardly in line with the historic challenges of the day; formalism, carried to the point of absurdity through disorder and sabotage; narrow-mindedness and parochialism. This attitude brings the film close to Mykola Shpykovskyi’s philistine comedies, especially his legendary Self-Seeker (1929), aimed at immanent criticism of the new Soviet way of life, and the two films together form a separate block of early Ukrainian satirical comedy.
Khanan Shmain is a highly original director of Les Kurbas’s school, who is completely forgotten today. In the autumn of 1921, when Kyiv Drama Theatre had moved to Bila Tserkva, the 19-year-old Khanan joined the theatre’s drama studio. From 1923 to 1928 he worked in the directing laboratory of Berezil and assisted Kurbas in a number of productions. In 1930 Shmain moved to Odessa and started to work at the Film Factory. The same year, he had a son, Illia, who later became a well-known theologian and Orthodox priest.
Pigs Will Be Pigs was a feature debut for Shmain. In 1936 he made his best-known film at Kyiv Film Factory – the comedy One Summer, written by Ilf and Petrov and starring Ihor Ilinskyi. Many of Shmain’s colleagues were jealous of the film’s success, especially the newly arrived Russian film directors, sent as a replacement for Ukrainian film professionals, almost all of whom had become victims of political repression.
This is what Shmain’s granddaughter, Hebrew culture scholar Anna Shmaina-Velikanova, says about it. “It was his famous film, after which Pyriev ate him alive. Then, when Les Kurbas was executed, he and his family had to run away urgently. That’s how he ended up in Moscow.” The story of how Shmain survived the German captivity during the war is also little short of a miracle. “When the war began, in its very first days he joined the Moscow people’s militia. He was taken captive right away. And incredible guys from Bila Tserkva, who remembered his father, Moisei Shmain, the baker, hid him during the selections for three years in a row.”
Pigs Will Be Pigs is the third great discovery, after Petro Chardynin’s Taras Triasylo (1926) and Mikhail Kaufman’s An Unprecedented Campaign (1931), that has recently been added to the State Film Archive.