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Romm, Mikhail Il’ich

(1901–1971), film director, scriptwriter, and educator. In 1925, Mikhail Romm graduated from the Moscow Higher Art–Technical Institute and worked as a sculptor and translator. From 1928 to 1930, he held a fellowship at the Institute for Methods of Extracurricular Work, where he did research on issues relevant to cinema. Starting in 1929, he wrote screenplays, completing the texts for Revansh (Revenge; 1930), Riadom s nami (Next to Us; 1931), and Konveier smerti (The Conveyor of Death; 1933). He served as an assistant at the Mosfilm Cinema Studio in 1931 and became a director two years later. From 1938, he taught at the Actors and Directors Workshop of the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography and in 1948 became its director.

Romm made his debut as a director with Pyshka (1934), a film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Boule de suif” (Ball of Fat); it was the last silent film of Soviet cinema. After directing his second film, Trinadtsat’ (Thirteen; 1937), Romm was commissioned by Stalin to produce a documentary marking the twentieth anniversary of the October Revolution. He turned out two films about Lenin: Lenin v Oktiabre (Lenin in October; 1937) and Lenin v 1918 godu (Lenin in 1918; 1939).

Romm’s productions during the 1940s and 1950s adhered to the style of socialist realism, yet they also revealed his artistic ambitions as a director; indeed, several of his films were recognized at international festivals. Mechta (The Dream; 1941–1943) stands apart from Romm’s other films of this period. Conceived as a rationalization for the Soviet takeover of eastern Poland but released after the Nazi invasion of Russia rendered such support irrelevant, Mechta, which features the renowned actress Faina Ranevskaia in the role of a Jewish mother, has been regarded as a tribute to East European Jewry on the eve of the Holocaust. Deviat’ dnei odnogo goda (Nine Days of One Year; 1962), a first-prize winner at the Carlsbad International Film Festival, also stands out in Romm’s creative work. The film dramatizes the artist’s reflections on the ethical problems Soviet intellectuals confronted in the face of new scientific discoveries.

Romm continued to call attention to Jewish issues. During World War II he daringly wrote Stalin a letter (1943) protesting the creation of the “purely Russian” film studio Rusfilm. Two decades later Romm came out publicly with a protest against the antisemitic practices of the Communist Party press (1962). His documentary Obyknovennyi fashizm (Ordinary Fascism; 1966), winner of the Special Prize of the Jury at the Leipzig International Film Festival, brought him international recognition. Its narrative consists of an agitated monologue about tyranny, xenophobia, and the Holocaust, with images as well as entire episodes on the fate of European Jewry.

Suggested Reading

Mikhail Romm, Besedy o kino (Moscow, 1964); Mikhail Romm, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 3 vols. (Moscow, 1980–1982); Josephine Woll, Real Images: Soviet Cinema and the Thaw, KINO, the Russian Cinema Series (London and New York, 2000).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson