‘The Journey of Dimitri Shostakovich’


The Journey of Dimitri Shostakovich is structured for no apparent reason around a nine-day ocean voyage the ailing composer took near the end of his life. On the Mikhail Lermontov, a Soviet pleasure boat designed to showcase the best in Russian culture, a tanned and toned international set cavorts around in sundresses, nibbling on caviar. Watching the archival footage, we are surely meant to feel the ironic disconnect between this stunning display and the privations suffered by citizen workers back home—though it’s been a while since even the most ardent socialist thought that life in the USSR was a bed of roses. Far more interesting are the seemingly random flashbacks to Shostakovich’s early years, which combine his speeches and letters with stunning montages of Stalin-era propaganda. These kitschy scenes of “everyday” Soviet life are easily the best part of the movie—we get undulating bathing beauties, singing factory workers, and absurdly upbeat skaters. (“It’s not cold on the ice!” a banner proclaims.) But this surreal phantasmagoria can make it difficult to get a sense of the arc of Shostakovich’s life. One minute he’s an awkward boy, while the next he’s frolicking on the beach with his lover. One minute he’s an official enemy of the people, the next he’s honored by the Party. It’s a shame that the filmmakers aren’t more explicit about the brutal choices Shostakovich faced under Stalin. Still, the impressionistic parade of footage they present is a fascinating spectacle in its own right.