Online Finds #1: Salt for Svanetia (M. Kalatozov, 1930)

The internet now provides the best means and tools for anyone wanting to expand their cinematic horizons. Hundreds and thousands of films even lacking any sort of DVD release are now just a click away on Youtube, often with the work of tireless committed amateurs benefiting us with subtitles, if required. So in the future I will post more of these, hoping to share my discoveries, beginning with a rare and unique gem of a Soviet documentary, Salt for Svanetia, from 1930, which Andrei Tarkovsky himself was a huge admirer of.

Made by the great Georgian director, Mikhail Kalatozov, later to be better known for The Cranes are FlyingLetter Never Sent and I Am Cuba, all showing off his virtuoso ability for astonishing visuals, this is a silent documentary about an isolated mountain people in Svanetia, a region in north-west Georgia. At times ethnographic in its chronicling of the daily toils of the Svan villagers, it is also of course propagandistic, as any Soviet film of that time was bound to be (thought it still ran into trouble with the Stalinist censor board). More importantly to me anyway, it is stunning in its cinematography, its editing rhythms, its unusual angles of framing, and the music which I found simply wonderful. All in all, a film that transcends both its age (few films from 1930 feel as fresh) and its political context, to become a unique oddity and treasure. Hopefully someone else enjoys it as much as I did!

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