Vasili Shukshin

Kalina Krasnaja, 1971/74, Vasilij Suksin

May 22 to June 1, 2009


When the news spread on October 2, 1974, that Vasili Makarovich Shukshin had died from a heart attack at the age of 45, life came to a standstill for a moment in Moscow. Shukshin – literary writer, actor, director – belonged to that rarest species of filmmaker: the auteur as popular hero. Every Soviet citizen of the 1960s and 70s knew both him and his figures and recognized themselves in these characters. Shukshin’s stories revolve around simple people and their difficult life paths which are sometimes sad or bizarre: truck drivers and students, ex-convicts, people from the hinterland and their odysseys. They share a melancholic and enthusiastic temperament, and are driven by their inner restlessness, their power of imagination and thirst for life.

Born in a village in the Siberian province of Altay in 1929, Shukshin lost his father to Stalinist terror at the age of four. When he was 14, he began a decade of drifting through various professions (in the automotive industry, on a collective farm, in the Navy, as a village school principal) which continued until he started his studies at the Soviet State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in 1954. Mikhail Romm reputedly gave him the highest marks at his entrance exam because he liked the unorthodox mixture of poetry and rebelliousness in Shukshin's audition. 1958 marked his breakthrough both as an actor and author. Shukshin realized his first of only five feature films as a director in 1963/64 with Zhivyot takoy paren / There is Such a Lad. He achieved his greatest success with his last work, Kalina krasnaya / The Red Snowball Tree (1974); Brezhnev is supposed to have personally protected Shukshin from the censors because he was in tears by the end of his private screening of Kalina krasnaya.


This show is a joint project of the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) and the Austrian Film Museum. The stage production Shukshin's Stories by the Latvian director Alvis Hermanis can be seen during the Festival from May 17 to 20.