Video Librarian, Mar. 4, 2008
(2006) 96 min. DVD. $99.95: public libraries; $295: colleges & universities. The Cinema Guild (tel: 800-723-5522, web: www.cinemaguild.com) PPR. ISBN: 0-7815-1223-9 (dvd).
A genealogical search takes on broader historical themes in Lucy Kostelanetz's documentary about her great-aunt Sofia Dymshitz-Tolstaya (known as "Sonia"), an avant-garde painter in late Czarist Russia who became a supporter of the new regime after the Bolshevik Revolution, lending her talent to propaganda efforts until her modernist style fell out of favor during the Stalin era. Combining excerpts from Sonia's memoirs and letters, interviews with relatives, archival footage and stills, and the painter's artwork and designs, Kostelanetz adeptly sketches Sonia's life, detailing how she escaped her wealthy and controlling father to join the radical art movement that flourished prior to the revolution, leading to relationships with many prominent intellectuals, including writer Alexei Nicolaevich Tolstoy (not to be confused with Leo), who became her second husband. During the Lenin years, Sonia helped found the Artists Union, but after Stalin's accession and the official change to so-called socialist realism, her prospects dimmed, and she was eventually dismissed from the Union (Alexei, from whom she'd separated, fell in with the new trends). The years until her death in 1963 were spent in obscurity, although relatives here speak warmly of her continuing indomitable spirit. A penetrating portrait of a strong-willed woman who sought to make her own way in a time of turbulent social and political change—as well as an affectionate family tribute—Sonia is recommended. (F. Swietek)
Photo: Sonia standing in the middle of her siblings, above
her brother and mother, 1903.
© 2010 Lucy Kostelanetz Productions, LLC