Oleksandr Dovzhenko is often credited as one of the pioneers of Russian cinema, with his influential work stretching over three decades, and paving the way for future filmmakers. ARSENAL is certainly no exception, bringing striking visuals and realistic grit to its tale of the lead up to the Bolshevik Uprising. What better way to experience it, then, than with live musical accompaniment from Bronnt Industries Kapital?
Centred around Timosh, a demobilised soldier in the aftermath of World War One, ARSENAL charts his arrival to his hometown of Kiev, which coincides with a national celebration of freedom. However, things are not as they seem. Soon after his return, Timosh and his ex-coworkers from the Arsenal munitions plant call for major change, pushing for a soviet system to be put in place.
One felt as if they were amidst the dirt and the dust. They could smell the gunpowder in the trenches. Opening with arresting examples of Daniil Demutsky’s superbly bleak cinematography, ARSENAL instantly captivates it’s audience in the most haunting of ways. Coupled with Bronnt Industries Kapital’s live musical score, the wartime atmosphere was defiantly setting in.
Multi-instrumentalist Guy Bartell brought modern electronic music together with classic silent cinema in perfect synergy. Although these are two mediums that exist in totally different generations, Bartell’s methods of staccato guitar to emulate the thunderous sound of the steam trains and ominous synthesisers to bring out the fog and dirt from the screen made one believe, if only briefly, that these two brilliant art forms could exist on the same plain.
The visceral experience was maintained by the master filmmaking techniques showcased throughout the film. Having stood the test of time well, the sense of nostalgia the imagery conjured up was one of the early classical Hollywood period, demonstrating the film’s lasting influence on the industry. Even ripples all the way up to Apocalypse Now feel familiar, with the looming threat of war constantly hanging in the air, like a contagious disease. The changes of pace throughout also flow very eloquently. ARSENAL switches between brilliantly shot footage of bombs resting in their factories to explosive battle scenes with incredible fluidity, despite them being a large contrast in sound and scope.
With an edge of the seat climax, ARSENAL proves itself as a fantastic war film with enough gritty realism to fully immerse the viewer. Despite being an early silent film, the action scenes are incredibly tense, along with the subdued acting and the chilling backdrop of 1918 Ukraine. Bronnt Industries Kapital’s live score elevated all this, putting the audience right in the middle of war and not letting go.