Whistle Stop – Boris Barnet

“If the silent period showed the flashes of brilliance as well as the unevenness of Barnet’s talent, the next few years would see him produce two worldwide masterpieces that place him as a precursor of French Poetic Realism and the work of Jean Renoir, as well as an influence on the French New Wave through the works of Truffaut, Godard, and Rivette.”

(excerpt from BRIGHT LIGHTS film journal)


City engineer comes to a Russian village to relax and paint pictures.

“We always get artists in this village!”

one girl complains, though why Soviet artists are so fixated on this particular village is never explained). He doesn’t get much work done because once the villagers find out he can fix things he’s in high demand to repair radios and chimneys and the like (and always muttering “Well, it isn’t my specialty exactly…”). Full of wonderful, breezy little gags: An old peasant babushka has a collection of cubist portraits of herself from all the other artists who’ve come to this village to paint and proudly displays them for the engineer. And not a dark cloud to be seen in this grand little flick…

Boris Barnet was born in Moscow. His grandfather Thomas Barnet was a printer who moved to the Russian Empire from Great Britain back in the 19th century. A student of the Moscow Art School, he joined the Red Army at age 16 and was then professionally involved in boxing. In 1927 he shot his first feature, a comedy film, The Girl with the Hatbox.

Barnet’s postwar work

is exemplified by Secret Agent, the first Soviet spy film. The Stalin Prize-winning film was also years ahead of its time in exhibiting Hitchcockian influence and tricks and helped cement Barnet’s reputation abroad. It was Barnet’s gift of artistic invention that made him stand out from the crowd of Soviet colleagues.
In a Barnet film, a photograph in the newspaper would unexpectedly come alive, and scenes would often end with a detail introducing the next scene. He would begin a scene with a close up, “so that the space is progressively discovered by changing the axis or by camera movement”. Among Russian filmmakers professing their admiration for Barnet was Andrei Tarkovsky.

After some years of artistic silence Boris Barnet committed suicide in Riga, Latvian SSR

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