House of the Word. Unfinished novel. Khvylevoy-Neo shoots an NKVD agent who looks like Putin

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 «The House «Word». An unfinished novel». Khvylevoy-Neo shoots an NKVD agent who looks like Putin

Instead of a film about the repressed House of Writers, we got a story about an NKVD operation

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The feature film “House of the Word. Unfinished Romance” caused a stir at the Kharkiv MeetDocs festival in the capital's Zhovten cinema: all tickets for one screening were sold out, and an additional one had to be arranged, for which everyone was crushed too. Why?

Five years ago, the authors successfully showed the documentary film “The House of the Word” – about the writers' house in Kharkov, where in the period 1928-1934 the stars of Ukrainian literature and theater lived: Mykola Khvylevoy, Pavlo Tychyna, Volodymyr Sosyura, Ostap Vishnya, Les Kurbas, Natalya Uzhviy.But then a wave of Stalinist repressions swept through, and this generation of artists began to be called the “executed revival”.

The creators of the documentary offered a fictional version of those events. Let's say right away: the ideological message of the picture is correct, but the artistic level is much inferior to it. The film about Khvylev and the company reminded me of the film “Forbidden” (2019) about the dissident poet Vasil Stus: a mixture of Soviet clichés with postmodernist techniques. In the light of the latter, the scene where Khvylovy, like Neo, smashes the ghosts of the NKVD secret police officer Akimov in a dream with a pistol, is striking – they die and resurrect again, like Agent Smith. A special piquancy to the scene adds the similarity of Akimov with the young Putin.

Towards the end, quite unexpectedly, the semantic focus of the picture shifted from the writers and their “House” to the NKVD officer Mener, skillfully driving the creators into a corner. Focus figured out why it happened.

We need to start this story with an event five years ago: director Taras Tomenko and screenwriter Lyubov Yakimchuk made a good documentary film, Dom Slovo, which premiered in 2017. It described in detail that Ukrainian writers wanted to improve their living conditions and in 1927 created a building cooperative – with the aim of building a joint apartment building in the then capital of the Ukrainian SSR – Kharkov. According to their estimates, the money for it had to be paid for 15 years. It was the first row of Soviet Ukrainian bohemia: Mykola Khvylevoy, Pavlo Tychina, Volodymyr Sosyura, Ostap Vyshnya. There was not enough money – the creators rushed to Moscow. There, on Stalin's personal order, money was sent to them. The Secretary General said, to the surprise of many: “Ukraine must raise its cultural level in the Ukrainian language.”

The house was rebuilt and the cultural commune began to live happily. In addition to writers, artists and directors found shelter here – the same founder of the legendary Berezil Theater Les Kurbas and its leading actress Natalia Uzhviy, the wife of the futurist Semenko. There are many details of creative and personal life in the picture: habits, hobbies, lovers, showdowns with neighbors.

However, the farther, the more the NKVD informers flooded the house. The informal leader in the House “Slovo” was Khvylovy. He was annoyed by the increasingly tangible control of the authorities, which did not prevent him for the time being from even traveling abroad. Yes, and Western stars came here, like Bertolt Brecht. The idyll ended when the Holodomor broke out: swollen, dying peasants reached Kharkov. Khvylovy and his colleague went on a business trip to the village and were horrified by the realities of this “collectivization”. The NKVD-ists completely blocked access to newspapers and magazines: it was impossible to write anything about this crime. Whoever raised his voice against fanaticism was arrested.

The ending is sad: Khvylovyi gathered his comrades-in-arms at his home and shot himself. Those who were not destroyed were forced to repent. Here is such a bright, but not too well-known story before the movie of the “Word” House, which still stands in the center of Kharkov.

The “Word” House: an artistic version

However, the authors decided not to limit themselves to a documentary, but melted down the obtained information into a feature-length feature film (budget UAH 60 million). But here a lot of pitfalls awaited them.

Two core lines were invented – about the real writer Khvylev (Vyacheslav Dovzhenko) and the collective graphomaniac sexist Vladimir Akimov, played by actor Dmitry Oleinik, who is very reminiscent of young Putin: thin hairs, a thin neck, a wandering look. Akimov is a graphomaniac moth, a snitch, a plagiarist, a sexual rapist. He, dreaming of getting into the House, makes a deal with the NKVD. They give him a luxurious apartment, but there is a switchboard in it: to eavesdrop on everyone.

«House "Word". An unfinished novel". Khvylevoy-Neo shoots an NKVD agent who looks like Putin

A new version of the appearance of the House of the Word

From that moment, the authors offered a different version of the origin of the House, compared to the one in the documentary. As Akimov's curator, an NKVD officer Mener (actor and director Yuri Odinoky), admits: “The architect immediately planned the Slovo House, taking into account the” wiretapping “, in order to” shepherd “writers.”

Is this conspiracy theory overkill? But what about the fact that bohemia just decided to spontaneously chip in for the cooperative? Central switchboard and microphones in every phone: isn't it too early in technology for the early thirties? Why was this not mentioned in the documentary “House Slovo”, but there are a lot of reports of informers in the spirit: “They closed, they are discussing something behind the doors.” And in order to bug and take down dozens of apartments (there were 66 of them in the House), a whole staff of NKVD officers and stenographers would be needed. For the poets?

Okay, any artistic fantasy has the right to exist. Even technically “fancy”. However, the idea that the House was originally built as a trap, with special equipment, significantly changed the emphasis in the narrative, which, we think, the authors did not plan.The NKVD-east Mener subtly, but ironically, “patronized” the freedom-loving writers' brethren, using information from Akimov. The conflict between artists and the government is growing. However, the filmmakers got too carried away with the creation of images and systems of evil, so that they became the semantic center of the film.

Our applause to Yuri Odinoky in the role of an NKVD officer in charge of writers. It is impossible to ignore on the screen the hypnotic-devilish, serpentine look of his large, unblinking eyes. He leads each game, each creator carefully, but steadily. Corrects Kurbas, annoys Khvylovy. The task of Mener is that they give out new talented works, but “correct” ideologically. He respects Khvylovy in his own way. He invites him to hunt with a bathhouse (although this is more like the entertainment of the nomenklatura of the Brezhnev era), saying: “I am also a front-line soldier.”

How did Lonesome manage to play the suppression of someone else's will so convincingly? And then it dawned on him: he is a well-known theater director who has staged dozens of performances in various theaters of the capital! He used to command, give tasks, subordinate the actors. And his Mener, in fact, puts on a kind of performance among bohemia, where everyone has their own role. That is why the character of Lonely turned out to be central in the film, like that switchboard where all the wires flock. Moreover, Khvylovy, of course, feels the “director's” function of Mener, and when he made an offer to hunt, he begins to tap dance in the rain in front of the “black funnel”. Like: you wanted me to dance to your tune – here it is! Strong scene!

It is curious, but for some reason in Ukrainian cinema, often in the midst of loose script and director material, the images of the NKVD shniks turn out distinctly. Evil obliges? Recall a similar role – an OGPU officer played by Alexander Kobzar in the first national blockbuster (did not pay off, but collected a decent box office) “The Guide” (2014).

And here the NKVD-ist, like a knife, is understandable, but the role sparkles and shimmers. Something in the character created by Lonely gleams Mephistopheles.

Cons of the painting “The House of the Word”

But the positive characters of the film were less fortunate: they got a lot of stamps. Khvylevoy is too whole nature. Without a single drawback, except for the fact that he smokes in packs, “chewing” cigarettes, and drinks liters of vodka (in the “House” almost everyone does this, so it seems like an experiment by British scientists to study the effects of bad habits on the human body).< /p>

«Slovo house. Unfinished novel. Khvylovy-Neo shoots an NKVD agent who looks like Putin

He is constantly in conflict with his informer wife and is always happy with his stepdaughter, who appreciates and loves him. And where is his innocent foppishness: the writer brought beautiful imported things from abroad, dressed his family, gave them to others – what is the documentary about? You can't be a superhero around the clock! But the character of Vyacheslav Dovzhenko (“Cyborgs”) is at least given enough time. And in the group of his associates it is difficult to even feel the characters: they are like extras with a leader.

Writers arranged creative evenings in the style of a revolutionary cabaret. There you can highlight the reading of futuristic poetry by the poet Mikhail Semenko (actor Gennady Popenko). But in general, it also all looked a little affected, like an operetta on the theme of Soviet bohemia. The performances often take place in one of the main locations of the film – a restaurant-dining room. Borscht, cereals, wines, vodka – just a self-collected tablecloth and a Soviet paradise.

«Slovo house. Unfinished novel. Khvylovy-Neo shoots an NKVD agent who looks like Putin

But you have to pay for comfort: the image of Akimov's sexist begins to literally haunt Khvylovy. And here postmodernism is already in full swing: Khvylovy shoots an informer with a pistol, he falls, but rises in another place: in a closet, in a corridor, in a mirror. The one-on-one episode of The Matrix where Neo kills Agent Smith multiple times. And given the similarity of Akimov with the young Putin, this looks both funny and ominous. It is clear that the prose writer dreamed it.

«Slovo house. Unfinished novel

Akimov will also be overtaken by the hand of fate, but this finale in the film is not even an operetta, but an opera one – we will not spoil it: go to the movies .

As a result, it turns out that the evil in the person of the anti-hero Yuri Lonely turned out to be the most vivid and memorable. The film was released not about the “House of the Word”, as in the documentary version of the story, but about a well-organized, diabolical system of suppression. The central character was supposed to be Khvylovy, but it turned out to be the executioner Mener, who even scolded his informer for the death of the classic: “Khvylovy – a genius, and you are shit!” The authors themselves came up with an intrigue with a conspiracy that blocked the rest of the lines: as it backfired, it responded.