Arsenal (1929, Alexander Dovzhenko)

“Can we knock off the capitalists and officers in the street if we find any?”

Features the most depressing opening 10 minutes of any movie ever. “There was a mother who had three sons. There was a war. The mother had three sons no more.” Actors stop, freeze in mannequin poses. A man beats his horse, as a woman beats her children. Laughing gas is released on the battlefield. A man with small round glasses has fits of hilarity. In silhouette, a soldier won’t shoot, drops his gun frozen, gets killed by his commanding officer. A Russian troop train is ambushed by Ukrainians, and after revealing its defenses is permitted to roll along, out of control since the driver has left, crashing, some men having leapt to safety, others not – a dying man’s arm cross-cut with an accordion thrown from the wreck. A woman reads a letter straight into the camera. Horses respond verbally (via intertitles) to shouted commands.

Real dissonant music, and editing to fit the scenes – lingering at the start, then all quick and exciting leading up to the train crash.

Ukrainian workers return to The Arsenal after fighting for years, first in WWI then to free their country from Russia, then as far as I can figure out the storyline, there’s internal conflict to decide whether they will join the Soviet Union. Quoth Wikipedia “The civil war that eventually brought the Soviet government to power devastated Ukraine. It left over 1.5 million people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.”

But wait, Wikipedia can explain the movie’s plot as well.

The film concerns an episode in the Russian Civil War in 1918 in which the Kiev Arsenal January Uprising of workers aided the besieging Bolshevik army against the Ukrainian national Parliament Central Rada who held legal power in Ukraine at the time. Regarded by film scholar Vance Kepley, Jr. as “one of the few Soviet political films which seems even to cast doubt on the morality of violent retribution”, Dovzhenko’s eye for wartime absurdities (for example, an attack on an empty trench) anticipates later pacifist sentiments in films by Jean Renoir and Stanley Kubrick.

Whatever specific historical events it may be illustrating, and wherever exactly it may be taking place, I loved every scene. It’s got all the brilliant camerawork and crazy heightened atmosphere of the great Dura Lex, and more. Closes with a firing squad discovering a Ukrainian worker who cannot be killed, baring his chest to reveal no hidden armor or wounds.