In 1938 Shostakovitch encourages a young student to compose the eponymous opera. The student is killed in the seige of Leningrad so the composer completes it. Ten years later he fights against Stalin's regime to have it performed on the public stage.
Communism is dead. Stalin is master of the Soviet Union. Socialist realism rules the day. Undesirable aliens "disappear". Hitler invades Russia. A Jewish world vanishes. World War II ends. Soviet authorities silence the masses. Coca-Cola signs start appearing in St. Petersburg.
Hardly the stuff for a night out at the multiplex: indeed, trying to find Rothschild's Violin playing anywhere may be a little too ironic, but if you want a reaction then this guarantees it. You'll either praise it to the heavens, damn it to hell or walk out bored stiff.
The film is a biog of both Soviet composer Shostakovich (Makovetsky, sublime) and of a country in tumult during World War II. Terrified by the cultural commissars (depicted as a sort of Ministry Of Truth made flesh), Shostakovich seeks refuge in teaching and meets young student Fleischmann (Kazlauskas), who has adapted Chekov's Rothschild's Violin as a one-act opera.
When Hitler invades, the student is killed, the composer is evacuated and the opera is forgotten. Guilt-ridden, Shostakovich later orchestrates the opera and goes head to head with the authorities to get it performed in public.
Produced in France, Cozarinsky's passionate film falls between a solemn love letter and a blood-stained vendetta to mother Russia. Shostakovich is seen as weak while his creativity is muzzled and the constant use of extraordinarily powerful documentary footage makes the colour film look like idle child's play.
Cozarinsky also dedicates the entire middle reel to a performance of the opera (painfully slow and performed as a silent film), baffling considering the composer left no stage directions, and vaguely irrelevant to the film's message or perseverance (the morbidness will guarantee walk-outs). When cinema is used as opera then someone is pointing the camera in the wrong direction.
Part Shostakovitch biog, part Russian portrait, this film cannot really decide what it wants to be, apart from reactionary. A very slow mid section which plays out the Opera is unneccesary and, frankly, dull.