A Spring For The Thirsty

1965, Movie, NR, 70 mins


Filmed in 1965 and just as contemporary now as it was then, Yuri Ilyenko's directorial debut, A SPRING FOR THE THIRSTY, is a surreal cinematic poem from the cinematographer of Sergei Paradzhanov's 1964 SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS. (Ilyenko's best-known film, BIELAYA PTITSA S TCHORNEM PIATNOM [The White Bird Marked with Black] was made five years later and was named best film at the Moscow Film Festival.) As director-cinematographer of A SPRING FOR THE THIRSTY, Ilyenko has created a parable centering on an old man who lives a secluded life in the desert, alone with only his memories and photographs. His wellspring, once a source of joy and hope for thirsty passersby, is now rarely used. No longer able to find comfort in his memories, he turns all his photographs to face the walls. Divided into five sections--"A Coffin Is Needed," "Long July Nights," "The Day of Judgement Arrived," "The Son," and "Epilogue"--A SPRING FOR THE THIRSTY is practically a silent film. From its powerful, abstract black-and-white images, however, we learn that the old man is waiting to die. He builds himself a coffin, then sleeps in it, hoping to facilitate the last rite of passage. While he waits he is harassed by an elderly townswoman who helps him dig his grave. Distressed that he has lost the desire to live, she shouts, "Why do you need a coffin, you Antichrist?" He ignores her and reflects on all the people he has met at his well: two young brides who drink from the bucket as he holds it; a young child and his father; a beautiful young woman who beckons him and exclaims, as she washes her face, "Water, you are so lovely"; a young soldier unexpectedly shot by an unseen enemy (the bullet piercing the bucket as he drinks) in whose honor the town erects a statue, the old women and children crying in striking close-ups as the monument is lifted from its crate.

As stunning as his compositions is Ilyenko's inventive and minimal use of sound. A series of still photos of the old man chopping down a tree is intercut with scenes of children playing on a windmill, with the sounds of falling trees and laughing children juxtaposed. Suddenly a guitar is heard, and the old man's family arrives for a visit. His young, pregnant daughter-in-law has brought him a tape recorder and tries to get him to speak into it, but he starts to laugh uncontrollably. Although his son and family have also returned home for the visit, it is only the daughter-in-law who understands him. As he walks across the desert carrying a fruit tree, she is the only one to follow, picking up the fruit that falls from the branches. After picking up several pieces she is stricken with pain, drops the fruit, falls to the ground, puts her hand to her abdomen, and smiles as the film ends.

A SPRING FOR THE THIRSTY is an abstract visual work and not for the casual moviegoer, but its rewards are great for those who appreciate the sublime power of simplicity. It is a simple parable about the absoluteness of human thirst. Ilyenko's images are also simple, and their power may be lost on contemporary audiences used to high-tech special effects. The purity in his close-ups of the old man, the dying soldier, the thirsty young brides, and the village children are what make A SPRING FOR THE THIRSTY a masterful work--one worthy of comparison with another Ukrainian master, Alexander Dovzhenko. Ilyenko collaborated with the poet Ivan Dratch to create this lyrical work, which expresses the desires and fears of not just one man, but of a people who find temporary solace at his well and who continue, ultimately, to search for spiritual happiness whether it be found in this life or some other. In this cinematic poem Ilyenko has brilliantly realized the credo upon which Dovzhenko based much of his own work: "Let us not treat the theme of ordinary man as an ordinary theme. A film that is not steeped in human feeling is like a planet without atmosphere." (In Russian; English subtitles.) (Violence.) leave a comment

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A Spring For The Thirsty
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