Most helpful positive review
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2000
I'm sure there's plenty of people who would normally pass on this movie, for two reasons:
1) It's silent.
2) It's Soviet propaganda.
See it anyway. Dovzhenko's visual style is bracing, showing an astounding range of black-and-white palettes, from dusty grays to hard-edged chiaroscuro effects. His editing is even more audacious than that of his countryman, Eisenstein; parallel narratives, extended atmospheric montages, long, tense scenes suddenly bursting into flash cuts of near-subliminal effect.
Yes, the narrative line is somewhat confusing, with juxtapositions of abstract battle scenes, flurries of political agitation, allgorical action, and stark, fable-like tableaux. But keeping in mind that Dovzhenko is trying to capture the transition of an entire country from war to chaos to corruption and back to war again actually can help wean the viewer off of the need for a linear story. Unlike a lot of standard movie fare, "Arsenal" actually makes more sense the more you think about it: the dream-like structure gives the movie a marvelous retrospective clarity.
And, yes, the movie is propaganda, but it is far less didactic than most other examples, not to mention leavened with instances of black humor that give the film a curiously independent, humanistic streak. (There was only one scene that made me wince in light of later Soviet history.) In the end, Dovzhenko seems less interested in winning converts to his cause than in simply giving the viewer a chance to experience what it's like to be in the middle of epochal change. It's also a movie that at times is positively giddy at the possibilities of the medium. A real breath of fresh air, even now.