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Larisa Shepitko, an icon of sixties and seventies Soviet cinema

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Larisa Shepitko

Larisa Efimovna Shepitko was a Soviet film director born in Ukraine in 1938. Shepitko was a member of the most prodigiously gifted generation of Soviet filmmakers who were at the forefront of the Russian "New Wave" that flourished under Khrushchev before the cultural clampdown of 1967-8.

Her contemporaries included Elem Klimov, Andrei Konchalovsky, Kira Muratova, Gleb Panfilov, Aleksei German and Andrei Tarkovsky.

She enrolled in the Moscow film academy in 1955, and in 1958 she studied direction at the State Institute for Cinematography (VGIK), a few years behind Andrei Tarkovsky. Her tutor was Alexander Dovzhenko, a towering figure of early Soviet cinema and contemporary of Eisenstein.

Shepitko graduated from VGIK in 1963 with her prize winning diploma film "Heat", made when she was 22 years old. It tells the story of a new farming community in Central Asia during the mid 1950s.

At that time she married her fellow VGIK student Elem Klimov, (Director of the war film "Come and See" 1985), who helped her to complete the project.

In 1966 Shepitko was able to create her controversial second feature, "Wings", which drew a stellar performance from Maya Bulgakova as a once-famous Stalinist fighter pilot now a disenchanted provincial schoolteacher. Due to its plot based on the conflict of generations, the film aroused considerable Soviet press controversy at the time.

Shepitko's third film was "You and I" (1971). This was her only film in colour. The film is an existentialist narrative about two male surgeons in crisis about their ideals, balancing individual despair with hope in a wider humanity and responsibility. "You and I" was favourably received at the Venice Film Festival, but lacked proper public exposure in the Soviet Union.

The "Ascent" (1976) was her last film and the one which garnered the most attention in the West. In it, Shepitko returns to the sufferings of World War II, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a group of partisans in Belarus in the bleak winter of 1942. "The Ascent" won the Golden Bear at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival in 1977.

The career of Larisa Shepitko was tragically cut short when she was killed in a car crash at age forty, just as she was emerging on the international scene (she was invited to serve on the jury at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978).

The tragic accident happened when she and four members of her shooting team were scouting the locations for her planned adaptation of the novel "Farewell to Matyora", by Valentin Rasputin. Her husband Elem Klimov, also a film director, finished the work for her. Shepitko's death stunned Soviet film community. It was so sudden and absurd for a young, gifted, strikingly attractive woman, and highly demanded on the international film circuit film director. She was on her way to becoming a major figure of postwar Soviet cinema.

In 1980 her husband made a documentary "Larisa" as a loving tribute for his wife and partner Larisa Shepitko .

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