Larisa Shepitko: The Poetry of Perseverance

03 Jul 2022 – 31 Jul 2022 | GOMA | Cinema A

Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko was one of the key poetic voices of Soviet cinema. Admired for her humanistic philosophy and striking aesthetic sensibilities, she crafted a small but unforgettable body of work in a life cut tragically short.

Born in Eastern Ukraine in 1938, Shepitko moved to Moscow as a teenager to study at the prestigious film school VGIK. The only female student in her class, she was mentored by the venerable Ukrainian director Alexander Dovzhenko, whose impassioned approach to filmmaking would influence her own journey as an artist.

The production of her graduate film Heat 1963 – the story of an idealistic graduate who goes to work on a collective farm on the remote Kazakh Steppe – was a difficult one, beset by high temperatures and illness. It was during this period that she met fellow student and aspiring director Elem Klimov, whom she would soon marry. Shepitko’s breakthrough success came with her second feature Wings 1966. The film is a powerful portrayal of post-war existential malaise, following a female fighter pilot whose heroism was celebrated in wartime but who finds herself forgotten and listless in the quietude of peace. Restrained and thoughtful, Wings nevertheless caused controversy domestically for its perceived critiques of Russian patriotism and was pulled from release shortly after its first screenings.

As the relative liberalism of the Khrushchev era came to an end under the new General Secretary Brezhnev, Shepitko found herself falling further foul of state censors. Her chapter (entitled ‘The Homeland of Electricity’) in the anthology film Beginning of an Unknown Era 1967 was shelved for two decades due to its political sentiments and her Technicolor drama You and Me 1971 was cut to receive state approval to screen at the Venice Film Festival.

Despite these setbacks, her greatest artistic success would arrive with her final film, The Ascent 1977. The tale of two Soviet soldiers being hunted across the icy Belorussian landscape by Germans in the Second World War, the film mixes brutal realism with spiritual parables to devastating effect. The Ascent was praised by critics both in the Soviet Union and abroad, winning the Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival and bringing new international attention to Shepitko as a director.

In 1979, Shepitko was location scouting for her next film – an adaptation of Valentin Rasputin’s novel ‘Farewell to Matyora’ – when she was killed at age 41 in a car accident, along with four members of the production crew. Since her tragic and untimely death, her legacy has grown as one of the most astute filmmakers to emerge from post-war Soviet cinema – someone who examined myths of heroism and the struggle to retain moral principles with clear-eyed vision.

This program presents a complete retrospective of Shepitko’s four feature films, along with Beginning of an Unknown Era and a rare screening of her television-movie musical revue In the Thirteenth Hour of the Night 1969. It also includes two films by her husband Elem Klimov: Larisa 1980, a tribute short he made to commemorate her life and legacy, and Farewell 1983, the film Shepitko was working on when she died and which he completed in her honour.


2.15pm Sun 10 July | Free, no bookings required

Join us for a fascinating lecture from Marko Pavlyshyn, Emeritus Professor of Ukrainian Studies at Monash University, who will discuss the legacy of Larisa Shepitko, the role of Ukrainian culture within the Soviet Union, and how the recent invasion of Ukraine re-shapes our understanding of these ideas.

QAGOMA acknowledges the generous assistance of the National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki; the British Film Institute, London; the Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam; and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne in providing materials for this program. Program curated by Robert Hughes, Australian Cinémathèque.