With a great number of its features used by film directors until this day, the Russian montage style has heavily influenced the world of cinema, while achieving its psychological, social and ideological goals, in its own period of time. Just as like a film shot is a collection of formal elements like lightning, movement, or volume, according to Eisenstein, wide-known film theorist, so is the Russian montage style film is a collection of messages or goals that can be manipulated by the film director in order to make the viewer feel a certain way.
Soviet rule in Russia during the peak of Soviet montage made it less possible for film directors to feel free in their choices while making the movie, but only one film had its release date pushed 15 years later because of the Soviet officials disagreeing with the film content.
The name of this film is Trial on the Road and it was directed by Aleksey German in 1971.
It is set in World War II times and tries to make the viewer question ideas presented in it, that portray social relationships in the Soviet war period Russia alongside with giving viewer the material needed to figure out the film’s heroes psychology. But all those goals are going to be achieved 15 years later for this film, in 1987, the year when it is finally released, the very beginning of Perestroika, which was the politics reform in the USSR. Trial on the Road is nowadays regarded as German’s masterpiece, encompassing the Russian montage style.
A famous film theorist known for his complex use of Russian montage08, Sergei Eisenstein, has drawn inspiration from all kinds of different fields, such as psychology, politics or sociology and others. All of their aspects has influenced the way Eisnsterin would go about his own passion – cinema. One of the strongest parallels made between Einstein and a psychologist was that made between Eisentein and Piaget, a famous Swiss thinker.
Piaget focused on study of kids psychology and many of his finding overlapped with those theories of Eisntestein. The idea of ego-centrism that was explained by Piaget on an example of kids age 2-7, was a similar thought Eisntein had about cinema audience, because viewing the film becomes an ego-centric action. Montage thinking has an even stronger correlation between the two thinkers. Just as kids ignored the action happening between the two states of something that can be treated as shots, going straight to the conclusion of that action, the audience in cinema also gets a better feeling of what is going on in the film from a few shots that change each other, rather than a single static long shot.
However rather than not accepting the technique of a long shot widely used in realism film styles, I would argue that both a combination of a few shots and a single long shot have an ability to trigger feelings in the audience. Another aspect both techniques have in common is their realization – montage of a group of shots takes effort just as one long-shot attraction also requires effort from the film director to be done right.
Eisensteins had a very long list of resources that has impacted his own theories and thinking from Marxist teaching to Haiku poetry. That is most probably why films of Russian montage style have so many ideas in them, most of which are not even close to the surface and are understood only by a few. Rather than just capturing reality in a shot and showing it to the audience, Eisenstein advocated for creating or reassembling the reality by combining a number of those shots and making the audience get its own sense of emotions that a film director wishes them to feel.
Aleksey German is a very significant figure for Russian cinema history, as he always tried to get his work to be as close as possible to perfect. He only shot six films, all of which are milestones of the Soviet Russian montage style period. ‘Trial on the Road’ had to face a handful of opposition from officials and the government, who decided to ban the film on territory of the USSR for the content of the film.
The film starts off by picturing the situation going in those parts of Russia that are already under the control of Germany during the World War II. The very first scene shows how powerless the Russians are in front of Nazi who force them to perform the agricultural duties, while Germans just lead them to the next task. Each shot and how the camera zooms in and out, focusing on small details, triggers an emotion in the audience who would watch the film. It is like the viewer can feel the poverty and feel sorrow for the Russian soldiers who have nothing to do to change their situation.
The main conflict in the film is the relationship between a deserter and Russian partisans who have captured him. How can a person, who betrayed his own country, be trusted again? The question of life and death is always present throughout the whole film, making the tensions even more heated. The psychology of humans behind the idea of death is scary for people themselves and unknown. Thoughts about death that is going to come sooner or later force people to make certain decisions about their own life. That could be a decision of a job for a person, or even a decision of teenager to whether go or not to a party, because of the substances that are going to be there are potentially dangerous.
Undoubtedly famous greek philosopher Socrates thought of philosophy as of an establishment for death. While philsophy is another fild of study from psychology, it directly deals with the situation of life and death, while psychology tries to figure out the mental state of people and trace their thoughts connected to the actions they perform in real life.
German’s ability to cause the viewer psychology to put be in work by portraying scenes of poverty and fear of Russia is one of many highlights of his input into history of Russian montage style.
Key moment in the film happens when partisans attacks the Nazi patrule and return to their home with a number of losses. It doesn’t take Nazi a while to counter attack the Russian village and force everyone in it to flee. Deserters that were captured were already convinced that their fate is decided and the next day is going to be the last one, but the Nazi attack switched up the ways plot went. Partisans relesed the deserters to run away with them, symbolising how the cost of lives of countrymen weigh more than the insult resulted from a deserter bertaying his homeland.
Social interaction between people from the same upcoming, fighting for their own country is always in tension. Film critic David Thomson had a number of complaints towards Eisntein’s theories, arguing that the collection of shots would rather distracts the viewer from getting an emotional reaction to the work. Thomson wished that the viewer would see the whole sequence of shots to understand what the plot is, in order to have a feeling. The juxtaposition between the techniques of long and short takes always have been the topic of discussion in the world of cinema. ‘Trial on Road’ combines both of those techniques to get the viewer as close as possible to the World War II reality.
Eisnestein claimed that cinema just as theatre exists purely in order to impact the conciusness of the audience. The purpose of art such as cinema and others like paintings or literature is to make a person feel an emotion. The society desires art to alternate the consiousness, break out of the everyday routine world outside of the cinema theatre or just threatre. Following that, Eisnstein highlights the significance of montage to the film once again, emphasizing how it would not be possible for a film to exist with an excellently performed moving shots captured by camera.
During one of the moments in ‘Trial on the Road’, a young partisan from Russia tries to make love to a young girl who is supposdly one of the partisans, on the same side with him for Russia. She asks him to marry her, but he replies with saying that he is a ‘pimp’, and afterwards she cnonfronts with him with a complaint that he is a far from perfect kisser. Idea of love and thoughts of marriage during the period of war are very complex, but they are always present. People during that time were having trouble expressing themselves in a way that represented their feelings in reality. The film director of the ‘Trial on the Road’, Aleksey German, stretches the combination of shots as close as it gets to perfect in Russian montage.
Another peak in the film’s plot happens when the deserter decides to try to take his own life. Everyone who was with partisans rushed in and found him almost dead, but saved his life. Afterwards deserter bursted out in tears, not knowing what to do next. One thing German makes so efficient with his actors are their facial expressions. Throughout the whole film no one, in my opinion, would have read thought of the deserter on the film screen. However, keeping in my mind that he already felt guilty and returned back to the partisans, give us an idea what could have been going on in his head. Guiltless is a feeling that increases in many times, if close people of a person are related to whatever would happen. German impeccably showcases guiltness and other feelings such as fear and duty in ‘Trial on the Roads’.
At the end of the movie the hugest challenge falls onto the deserter, who is the only person that would help partisans sneak into the Nazi headquarters to get food. After the unsuccessful suicide attempt he appears to feel nothing but the call of duty inside of him. When the clash finally happens between the deserter and Nazi soldiers who thought of him as one of theirs, both of the Nazi soldiers get shot by the deserter, but later on he does not make it out. One of the young women pretending to be a partisan bertrays one of the Russian comrades, forcing the whole Nazi camp to wake up and start shooting off the partisans. The deserter fires with a Nazi minigun until he falls dead from the enemy bullet rounds.
By that moment a few questions that were hidden for the viewer in the film reveal – death finally caught on to the deserter, but all the partisans finally ensured themselves that he was loyal to the homeland. As one of the goals that German tried to pursue in this body work is to portray human relations in times of hardship and poverty. How the psychology stands behind those decisions actors take during the movie. How well can you let an uknown person get to know you, how to stay alive.
Russian montage style is a very wide definition of a spark that happened in the beginning of 1920’s and change the world of cinema forever onwards, and it has included Soviet montage style. Eisnstein described his view of montage as having each shot being its own attraction that can be controlled and grouped with other shots to create a whole picture. Exactyle that combination of different techniques that encompass everything useful from long-take technique to tweaking audio and soundtrack to the work.
Even despite critic from theorists and other critis such as Thomson, German happened to jump over the studies of all of the most famous theorists and create something that is a phoenemoen, not only in Russia but all over the world. Bringing in together messages concerned with psycohlogical, social and ideological areas of film production, turned out to be flawless for German. Tensions of war period, question of death and life, people behaviour – all that was achieved by grouping shots filled with common elements of real life into a comple product with a use of Russian style montage.