Battleship Potemkin (Original title Bronenosets Potyomkin) is a Soviet History film released in 1925, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. A real story of the crew of a battleship rebelling against the officer’s oppression.
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During the first Russian Revolution, in 1905, the crew of Battleship Potemkin is treated awfully by the officers. They are beaten for no reason, humiliated, and forced to eat rotten food full of maggots.
After growing frustration, the crew refuses to eat the borscht, a kind of soup. In response, the officers threaten to execute everyone who won’t eat it. That’s when the sailors react, rebelling against the oppressors and taking the ship.
When the ship arrives at Odesa (Ukraine), the people of the city embrace the crew members and join their movement. However, the established power won’t give in to their demand for rights so easily.
The movie Battleship Potemkin was first brought to my attention some years ago by my ophthalmologist. I told him I write about movies and series, and he suggested to me Battleship Potemkin. As soon as I got home I searched for it, so I didn’t forget about it. However, I only watched it much later.
I didn’t know anything about it, and I was slightly surprised to see that it was a very revolutionary movie. Living in a reactionary city, I didn’t expect a well-off doctor to recommend a film celebrating a working-class revolution. But here we are, and I’m glad.
Sergei Eisenstein was chosen to make a propaganda film in commemoration of 20 years of the first Russian Revolution of 1905. It was supposed to be an anthology portraying several events of the Revolution, but due to the lack of time, Eisenstein decided to make only the story of the Battleship rebellion.
Originally, the movie opened with a quote from Trotsky’s 1905:
“The spirit of mutiny swept the land. A tremendous, mysterious process was taking place in countless hearts: the individual personality became dissolved in the mass, and the mass itself became dissolved in the revolutionary élan”.
However, that was removed later because of political tensions involving Trotsky.
We then proceed to watch the numerous abuses committed by the higher-ranking officers against their subordinates. From maggots in the food to execution threats, the mistreatment presented in the movie is different from today, but the parallel can be made. The forms of abuse evolve and become more subtle, but still there.
Anyway, once the crew reaches the boiling point, led by Grigory Vakulinchuk (played by Aleksandr Antonov), they rebel and take over the ship, getting rid of the oppressors. However, losing their leader in the process.
Vakulinchuk’s funeral in the port of Odesa is a turning point in the revolution. It moves the working people of the city to join Potemkin’s crew in their struggle.
This whole sequence is really nice in many aspects: it’s touching and inspiring, it ties parts of the plot, and – what I liked the most – the cinematography of the harbor.
I loved the movie’s cinematography, in general. However, the shots I liked the most were those in the harbor. There was an eerie yet charming look to it. The sunset, the fog, and the music tied everything perfectly.
Later, the movie has the famous Steps Sequence, referenced in many films, such as The Godfather, The Untouchables, and Revenge of the Sith. It was also a pivotal point regarding montages when the technique was still experimental.
This sequence has many remarkable moments. Some shots were really gory for the period. Others seemed to me as pretty tough to pull off with the technology and techniques of the time.
My formal education is completely removed from the cinema world. I’m just a fan of movies and series. A film like Battleship Potemkin and the Odesa Steps Sequence make me interested in reading more books, essays, and articles about Cinema history and such.
The film lacks characters. It’s an intentional choice to dissolve the sentiment of individuality and focus on the collective. However, I’m a little torn about it because we are used to character-centered storytelling. It feels slightly off when this logic is subverted, but only because of familiarity.
There was one thing I would say was a flaw, and that’s the slowness in some moments. Some scenes just drag for too long, and that’s a problem I often see in old, silent movies, and I think it has everything to do with the lack of sound (besides the music, of course).
Something that is usually pretty on point with silent movies is the score. Battleship Potemkin is no different from the norm. It has a very noticeable and beautiful score that fits the film perfectly.
Battleship Potemkin is a revolutionary propaganda movie. There are the good guys and bad guys, but that’s not negative by itself. I never saw anyone asking for more nuance from a film portraying the Nazis or calling the Allies short-sighted for fighting them. However, I’ve read both things about Battleship Potemkin.
Anti-communism is old but still alive and kicking, and with all the stupid tropes of centuries ago. And although Battleship Potemkin is a propaganda film, at least it’s honest about it, on the opposite of the anti-communist propaganda of our everyday lives, always disguised as something non-ideological.
Battleship Potemkin is a great revolutionary story and inspiration. It has a few problems that come from being so old, but the “net worth” is positive. I’ll give Battleship Potemkin (A.K.A. Bronenosets Potyomkin) 8 Moons.
That’s it for now.
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