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Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most important authors from the early history of film, an innovator who became famous during the twenties during the period of silent film. “The Cruiser Potemkin” is especially memorable from that period, and after ten years have passed since he made his last film in the Soviet Union, he finally made his first sound film. “Alexander Nevsky” was an unprecedented historical spectacle, and it is the film that later influenced practically everyone who decided to film a similar epic historical drama. It is a historical drama that takes place in the 13th century, when the then Novgorod republic, which is actually the forerunner of today’s Russia, was attacked from the east by the Mongols, and from the west by the Catholic knights of the Teutonic Order.

We follow the struggle of the Russians against the invasion from the west and the famous battle led by the military leader Alexander Nevsky, who later became a national hero and saint. Along with Eisenstein, Dimitrij Vasiljev was listed as a co-director, and Piotr Pavlenko was the screenwriter, but their main task was to ensure that Eisenstein did not fall into his famous formalism and that, as a result, Stalin would behead them all as a punishment. That is why it is not surprising that this epic, grandiose historical drama is a film that exudes a patriotic charge, and of course Stalin decided to use this story about the victorious spirit for socialist propaganda in sensitive moments with Nazi Germany. It was before the signing of the treaty between Molotov and Ribetnropp on the alliance between these two dictatorships, and as it is a film about the war between Russians and Germans during the Middle Ages, “Alexander Nevsky” also contains some undisguised allegories that reflect the current political situation between the two countries.

However, regardless of the fact that this historical spectacle was used for political propaganda, it is undoubtedly a masterpiece by which Eisenstein confirmed that he is perhaps the greatest film visionary of his time. In contrast to silent films where he often experimented a lot, “Alexander Nevsky” is a narratively clean, simply structured film, and only the finale of the film, i.e. the big battle between the Russians and the Teutons, stands out. No one had recorded anything like it before, and the photography and special effects used by Eisenstein were revolutionary for the time. Of course, from today’s perspective, that scene looks completely archaic, but at the end of the thirties, it must have been incredible ability, knowledge and innovation to record scenes in which thousands of extras had to be orchestrated.

That famous battle on the ice later served as a model for filming practically all battle scenes in later films, and Stanley Kubrick in “Spartacus” and George Lucas in “Star Wars” alike found inspiration in it. It would be foolish to compare Eisenstein’s historical spectacle with modern films of a similar genre, but what he managed to film during the thirties is completely incredible. His situation was certainly all the more difficult because the Soviet censors were constantly after him, and Stalin himself allegedly interfered in his creative process and, according to the stories, demanded that the recorded material showing discord among the Russians be destroyed.

Eisenstein was no fool and knew that he had to agree to everything that was asked of him, and the film is also remembered for the epic music composed by the famous Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. After Stalin gave permission for the final version to go to theaters, in just over four months between the end of 1938 and the beginning of 1939, “Alexander Nevsky” was seen in Soviet cinemas by an incredible 23 million people. But when Stalin and Hitler signed the famous non-aggression pact in the summer of 1939, the film was withdrawn from distribution only to change the situation two years later after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Then “Nevsky” became popular again, and during the war Eisenstein managed to complete only one more film. It was the first part of another historical spectacle “Ivan the Terrible”, while Stalin was dissatisfied with the second part and it was shown only in 1958, ten years after Eisenstein’s death, and the third part of the film was completely destroyed.