Filmed in 1967, but kept from release for 20 years, Alexander Askoldov’s The Commissar is unquestionably one of the most important, complex and paradoxical films of the post-war Soviet era. Based on a short story by Vasily Grossman, it tells of a female Red Army commissar who is forced to stay with a Jewish family near the frontlines of the battle between the Red and White Armies as she waits to give birth. The film drew the ire of censors for its frank portrayal of the violence faced by Russian Jews in the wake of the revolution. Marat Grinberg, the author of the first book on the film, will introduce its fascinating production and release history, the film’s diverse literary and cinematic contexts and discuss its many-sided poetics of Jewishness, femininity and the revolution.
Grinberg is an associate professor of Russian, Humanities and Comparative Literature at Reed College.