Apotheosis of the Artist: Mamochka in Republic ShKID

(title half-borrowed from one of my favourite Ilya Repin paintings hehe) Earlier on the blog I highlighted a few Russian films for/about children, that have at some time struck me as meditations on political inclusivity/inclusion, sincere or satirical portraits of ways people draw others towards or apart from themselves and decide to belong to others, and sometimes most movingly, implicit pleas that even those on the fringes can be ideal citizens if given a chance, that including of all kinds – being seen and understood – is the best way. There’s a stop-motion animation series, a Prague Spring school one, a Pioneer scout one (probably the only Klimov I’ll ever be able to watch), and a lesser-known classic, “Republic ShKID” or Республика ШКИД (1966): a tragicomic story of street urchins at a 1920s Dickensian corrective school led by an idealistic headmaster. Here I wanted to share a little spotlight on Mamochka, my favourite character in that picture (played by Aleksandr Kavalierov in a very natural cinematic debut).

Diminutive Mamochka arrives at the school in an oversized tunic and boots, an eyepatch under his unruly mop, and a balalaika he won’t be parted with: this wise Artful Dodger is reluctant to settle in but somehow wins over kids and adults alike until he tries to take flight in the night with fine things that caught his magpie eye. Overcome by the shame of disappointing the people he’d come to care for, he doesn’t run off when discovered, but auditions to be part of a school celebration. The artist hopeful plays to great applause but is turned away because he can ’slip away’ at any time; the council are unmoved by his promise to never leave again, until a final act of pure altruistic sacrifice unites those within and without the school. In some ways I’m surprised it was released at all (turns out its director had a hard time making a sequel/other films for a bit afterwards), but maybe I mostly love its heart-wrenching invitation to trust the sometimes out-of-place, creatively-inclined strangers whose love for beauty and their neighbours can mean a lot to a lot of people in the snowstorms of life – I hope you’ll want to try this or the other films after checking out the post! :’) X