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1962: Siberian Lady Macbeth: Andrzej Wajda (Polish New Wave, Eastern Europe)

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda was well-known for making war films between 1955 and 1958, with “Ashes and Diamonds” as an example of one of his films. As time passed, Wajda started to avoid using the theme of war and transitioned to screening films based on existing stories, such as “Siberian Lady Macbeth.”  In this case, Wajda traveled to the Soviet Union to create this film, and he went against the artistic directions from Moscow and made this film as natural as it could be instead of making traditional propaganda films.


The story's plot revolves around a woman named Katerina, who is married to a man named Zinovij, who travels a lot and is left in the dark with her father-in-law. She then meets a laborer, Sergei, and they plot to kill Katerina’s father-in-law so they can fall in love. Eventually, they were caught and exiled to Siberia and were living in misery in the cold climate of Northern Russia.


“Macbeth” has been a well-known story since the Shakespearian era and has received many cultural adaptations and rewrites. This version was based on Nikolai Leskov’s tragedy theme while the film noir genre ties in. Some viewers can see this film as Soviet Propaganda because life in the Soviet Union has always been difficult for people to survive or live freely. These aspects can take away the joy of viewers enjoying the film as a classic piece.


Viewers may see some plot points as confusing because there were random actions without explanation, and research was required to discover why some of the disturbing points occurred in the story. One such example was showing a dead rat, and viewers were unable to identify that the purpose was to poison Katerina’s father-in-law. Another example was the love triangle situation, where Katerina’s husband was away often, so she fell in love with someone else. These plot points are common in many American and Western European films.


A vast majority of these early Eastern European New Wave films, as much as filmmakers try to make them as pleasurable and entertaining as possible, many of those artists failed because almost every single one ended up having moments, if not very long moments, of dark and depressing moments, which makes it difficult for viewers to watch. This was likely all done because the Soviet Union required each film to involve some form of Propaganda, and other cultures, such as America and Western Europe, may see this genre as not historically significant in cinema. Viewers may opt to watch newer Eastern European films after the collapse of the Soviet Union, contemporary Asian cinema from 1985 to the present, or any movie after World War II to present in America or Western Europe.


The main takeaway to “Siberian Lady Macbeth” and to Andrzej Wajda was that this story was an attempt to steer away from Soviet Propaganda to traditional storytelling. Still, the filmmakers, unfortunately, snuck a few plot points that can be linked to Propaganda, which could steer viewers away from watching films from Eastern Europe of the 1950s-1960s.

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