Larisa Shepitko

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Larisa Shepitko
Larisa Shepitko.png
Born(1938-01-06)6 January 1938
Died2 July 1979(1979-07-02) (aged 41)
Resting placeKuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, actress
Years active1956–1979
Notable work
The Ascent (1976)

Larisa Efimovna Shepitko (Russian: Лари́са Ефи́мовна Шепи́тько; Ukrainian: Лариса Юхимівна Шепітько; 6 January 1938 – 2 July 1979) was a Soviet film director, screenwriter and actress.

Early life and education[edit]

Shepitko was born in Artemovsk, a town in Eastern Ukraine. One of three children, she was raised by her mother, a schoolteacher. Her father, a Persian military officer, divorced Shepitko's mother and abandoned his family when Larisa was very young. She recalled, "My father fought all through the war. To me, the war was one of the most powerful early impressions. I remember the feeling of life upset, the family separated. I remember hunger and how our mother and us, the three children, were evacuated. The impression of a global calamity certainly left an indelible mark in my child's mind." Because of this, her work often deals with loneliness and isolation.

In 1954 Shepitko graduated high school in Lviv. Shepitko moved to Moscow when she was sixteen, entering the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography as a student of Alexander Dovzhenko. She was a student of Dovzhenko's for 18 months until he died in 1956. She felt a kinship between their shared heritage and social realist imagery. She also adopted his motto, "Make every film as if it's your last."

Shepitko graduated from VGIK in 1963 with her prize winning diploma film Heat, or Znoy made when she was 22 years old. Kemel, a recent school graduate, travels into an isolated part of the steppes to work in a small communal farm camp in Central Asia during the mid-1950s. The film was influenced by a short story, ''The Camel's Eye'', by Chingiz Aitmatov. Her film showed Dovzhenko's impression, both in its parched setting and its naturalistic style. During the editing phase of the film Larisa Shepitko was helped by Elem Klimov who also was a student at VGIK at that time. In 1963 they married and their one child, Anton was born in 1973. Heat won the Symposium Grand Prix ex aequo at the Karlovy Vary IFF in 1964[1] and an award at the All-Union Film Festival in Leningrad.[2]

Film career[edit]

Wings (1966), Krylya

Shepitko's next film Wings concerns a much-decorated female fighter pilot of World War II. The pilot, now principal of a vocational college, is out of touch with her daughter and the new generation. She has so internalized the military ideas of service and obedience that she cannot adjust to life during peacetime. Shepitko brings to light the inner life of a middle-aged woman who must reconcile her past with her present reality. She expresses this by contrasting her character's repression, marked by claustrophobic interiors and tight compositions, with heavenly, expansive shots of sky and clouds, representing the freedom of her flying days. Actress Maya Bulgakova inhabits this stern but reasonable woman with empathy and humor. The film aroused considerable Soviet press controversy at the time, as films were not meant to depict conflicts between children and parents (Vronskaya 1972, p. 39). It also started a public debate by acknowledging a generation gap and for painting a war hero as a forgotten, lost soul.

Beginnings of an Unknown Era (1967), Nachalo nevedomogo veka

In 1967 she shot the second of the three stories in the “Beginning of an unknown era” entitled “Homeland of electricity”. Shepitko's story follows a young engineer who brings electricity to an impoverished village. Conceived as a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, authorities deemed its depiction of the Bolsheviks as negative. The first and the second stories were projected 20 years later. The last one hasn't been found yet.

In the 13th Hour of the Night (1969), V trinadtsatom chasu nochi

In 1969 she shot her first color film, a musical fantasy film titled In the 13th hour of the night, a New Year's revue starring Vladimir Basov, Georgy Vitsin, Zinovy Gerdt, Spartak Mishulin and Anatoly Papanov.

You and Me (1971), Ty i ya

Shepitko's third film was You and Me (1971), which follows the lives of two male surgeons struggling with different notions of fulfillment. It's both a character study and a critique of consumerism. This was her second and last film in color. It was favorably received at the Venice Film Festival, but lacked proper public exposure in the Soviet Union.[clarification needed]

The Ascent (1977), Voskhozhdenie

The Ascent (1977) was her last completed film and the one which garnered the most attention in the West. The actors Boris Plotnikov and Vladimir Gostyukhin received their first major roles in the film. Adapted from a novel by Vasili Bykov, Sotnikov Shepitko returns to the sufferings of World War II, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a group of pro-Soviet partisans in Belarus in the bleak winter of 1942. Two of the partisans, Sotnikov and Rybak, are captured by the Wehrmacht and then interrogated by a local collaborator, played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, before four of them are executed in public. This depiction of the martyrdom of the Soviets owes much to Christian iconography. There was little controversy this time around, as her narrative was very in line with nationalist pride.The Ascent won the Golden Bear at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival in 1977.[3]

Shepitko's growing international reputation led to an invitation to serve on the jury at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978.[4] It was also the official submission of the Soviet Union for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category of the 50th Academy Awards in 1978 and it was included in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” by Steven Schneider.


Shepitko died in a car crash on a highway near the city of Tver with four members of her shooting team in 1979 while scouting locations for her planned adaptation of the novel Farewell to Matyora by Valentin Rasputin. Her husband, the director Elem Klimov, finished the work under the title Farewell and also made a 25-minute tribute entitled Larisa (1980).[5]

Farewell was about a small village on a beautiful island, threatened with flooding. The film follows the inhabitants and their farewell to their homeland. “Critics maintained that the final product lacked Shepitko’s unique personal vision, obviously a point of view that could never be replicated.” Composer Alfred Schnittke dedicated his Second String Quartet to Shepitko's memory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archive of films > Heat". KVIFF. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  2. ^ "ВКФ (Всесоюзный кинофестиваль)" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 7 January 2011.
  3. ^ "Berlinale 1977 - Filmdatenblatt". Archiv der Internationale Filmfestspiele in Berlin. 1977. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  4. ^ "Berlinale 1978: Juries". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  5. ^ Ivan-Zadeh, Larushka (9 January 2005). "The lady vanishes". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2016.


  • Quart, Barbara Koenig. 1988. Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema . New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-92962-0, OCLC 17385039.
  • Vronskaya, Jeanne. 1972. Young Soviet Film Makers. London: George Allen and Unwin
  • Michael Koresky, Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko, The Criterion Collection, 2008
  • Peter Wilshire, A Harrowing Exploration of War and the Meaning of Human Existence: The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye, Larisa Shepitko, 1977), Off Screen, Volume 20, Issue 3/March 2016

External links[edit]