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In Soviet Russia, Nikita Mikhalkov’s Short Film Watches You

Veteran director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov, whose ambitious and beautiful Oscar-nominated 12 Angry Men remake 12 arrives on DVD this week, is sort of a Russian mixture of Sean Connery, Steven Spielberg, and Ronald Reagan: a former heartthrob who has become one his nation’s premier filmmakers, not to mention one of its more pronounced and controversial political personalities. He won a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1994 for his Stalin-era tragedy Burnt by the Sun and has made some of the most seminal Russian films of the past several decades, including Oblomov, Close to Eden, and Dark Eyes.

But in 1967, he was just a young actor attending VGIK, the prestigious Russian film academy. This dialogue-free short film, Devochka I Veshchi (A Girl and Things), was one of Mikhalkov’s first student films, made under the tutelage of Mikhail Romm, himself a legendary filmmaker. It is a modernist (and very Soviet) look at a young girl’s interaction with the world around her and displays many of the strengths of the director’s later work, including his attention to milieu and his sensitivity to young performers. We even get a hint of his later cultural conservatism when a pop song set to the traditional “Song of the Volga Boatmen” comes on the soundtrack.