Po zakonu (By the law)

A film by Lev Kules̆ov

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Lev Kules̆ov's legendary "constructivist Western" (adapted from a story by Jack London) was a highlight of the Soviet Cinema of the 1920s and one of the most popular films of its time. Upon finding gold in the Yukon a group of prospectors descend into murder. The survivors are facing an existential choice. The DVD presents a new transfer of the film and a contemporary score by Austrian composer and musician Franz Reisecker. As an extra it includes the only surviving fragment of Kules̆ov's Vas̆a znakomaja, featuring sets by avantgarde artist Aleksandr Rodc̆enko.

Po zakonu (By the Law / Dura Lex) - Soviet Union 1926 - Directed by: Lev Kules̆ov - Written by: Viktor S̆klovskij, Lev Kules̆ov, adapted from the story "The Unexpected" by Jack London - Cinematography by: Konstantin Kuznecov - Cast: Aleksandra Khokhlova, Sergej Komarov, Vladimir Fogel, Petr Galadz̆ev, Porfirij Podobed - Produced by: Goskino, Moskau - Premiere: December 3, 1926, Moskau

Vas̆a znakomaja (Your Acquaintance) - Soviet Union 1927 - Directed by: Lev Kules̆ov - Written by: Aleksandr Kurs, V. Amarin, Lev Kules̆ov - Cinematography by: Konstantin Kuznecov - Cast: Aleksandra Khokhlova, Petr Galadz̆ev, Jurij Vasilc̆ikov, Boris Ferdinandov, A. C̆ekulaeva, Aleksandr Gromov - Produced by: Goskino, Moskau - Premiere: Oktober 25, 1927, Moskau

Po zakonu (also know as Dura Lex) was the cheapest film produced in Russia (perhaps even still today); at the same time an absolute masterpiece, the greatness of which stems from its very minimalism. The minimum effort required for the story-development (Kules̆ov constantly claimed, he happened upon Jack London's story "The Unexpected" quite by chance), the minimum number of characters (just three for most of the film), a minimum of inter-titles and lines of dialogue, a minimum of locations; a clearing not far from Moscow (posing as "Alaska") and a cabin--the perfect setting for a stripped-to-basics chamber play. Even if the juggling of shot composition and length (Kules̆ov's notorious "Americanism") is not as artistically ambitious as in his previous work, it is still apparent how close-ups dominate inside, whilst outside, in the snowy landscapes and riverscapes, long shots reign, seemingly to the point of halting all movement.

One can label Po zakonu as much an "irrlicht tale" in the "catacombs of exaltation" (Leo Hirsch) as a formalist action film, a Western psychodrama or an experimental study in bigotry. When it comes to taking artistic styles and genre conventions and playing around with them, Kuleov remains the master. There is as much of the silent Westerns of John Ford as there is Erich von Stroheim's Greed and Charles Chaplin's The Gold Rush in Po zakonu.

Aleksandra Khokhlova, Lev Kules̆ov's life partner was by Po zakonu already the "postergirl" of his experimental Actor-Laboratory. The critics--especially the Germans--praised her "courage to be so repulsively ugly" and her "unrestrained will of expression". Bernard von Brentano, for instance, writes: "Khokhlova is not beautiful. One is even frightened of her upon first glance. However, one soon longs to see her again, having been deeply touched. Thus, she has triumphed over every opposition. Her face is thin and hard. But her eyes shine like her hair. [...] If I were a director, I would travel to Moscow and book the actress Khokhlova."

Kules̆ov didn't just book her, he created a monument to her with Vas̆a znakomaja / Z̆urnalistka, a film which premiered in Moscow on the 25th October 1927. A monument which unfortunately today survives only as a fragment of 358 meters (its fourth reel, the original length amounted to 1800m). The female protagonist, a scatterbrained, clumsy, impudent female journalist, answers to the name of "Khokhlova". She is a modern woman, in-your-face and interesting in both the way she dresses and the way she handles the men who surround her in her everyday working life: she writes almost all of them off as wimps but the one she loves, a functionary, proves to be a conformist: disappointment ensues. For Kules̆ov, erasing intrigue leads to the possibility to focus attention on the details of ordinary life, to see the familiar anew. The mise-en-scène is unique, with razor-sharp contours and extreme lighting provided on the one hand by Aleksandr Rodc̆enko with his constructivist design of the materialistic world, and on the other hand by cameraman Konstantin Kuznecov with his "svetotvorc̆estvo" (light-making) already known from Po zakonu.

In a year filled with Revolutionary festivities, a film about Soviet ordinary life, not tomention one so in love with objects as to border on the realms of documentary yet stillremain highly artificial, was something of a provocation. Not just for that reason did thecritics condemn Vas̆a znakomaja, as they had done Po zakonu before it, as "formalist", even "immoral".

Barbara Wurm

  • Po zakonu 1926, 78'
  • New score by Franz Reisecker
  • Vas̆a znakomaja 1927, 18' (fragment)
  • Bilingual 16 page booklet

Edited by: Österreichisches Filmmuseum
DVD authoring: Ralph Schermbach
DVD supervision: Michael Loebenstein

First edition December 2010

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Product Details

Data sheet

Lev Kuleshov, Viktor Sklovskij, Konstantin Kuznecov, Aleksandra Chochlova, Sergej Komarov, Vladimir Fogel', Petr Galadzev, Porfirij Podobed
DVD5 PAL 4:3
Original format
Lev Kuleshov
Deutsch, English, Français
78' + 18'



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