Official film poster
|Directed by||Georgi Vasilyev|
|Written by||Dmitri Furmanov (book)|
|Music by||Gavriil Popov|
The film is a fictionalized biography of Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev (1887–1919), a Red Army commander who became a hero of the Russian Civil War. It is based on the novel of the same name by Dmitri Furmanov, a Russian writer and Bolshevik commissar who fought together with Chapaev.
The film centers around a Red Army division commanded by Vasilii Chapaev in their fight against White Army troops commanded by Colonel Borodzin. A Commissar named Furmanov is delegated to the division from Moscow, and although he initially does not get along with Chapaev, he proves his worth by resolving a conflict that arises when Chapaev's men steal from local peasants and the two become good friends.
With the help of Chapaev's adjutant Petka and the machine gunner Anka (who develop a love interest over the course of the film), and with intelligence provided by Borodzin's defecting aide Petrovich, the division manages to repel an attack from the White Army troops.
Higher – ups in Moscow re-assign Furmanov to another Red Army division, and the situation soon deteriorates. Under the cover of darkness, Borodzin and his men attack Chapaev's headquarters. Despite their heroic efforts, Petka and Chapaev are killed. Their sacrifices are avenged, however, as Anka alerts the rest of the division and a counterattack is shown to be successful in the final shots of the film.
- Boris Babochkin – Chapaev
- Boris Blinov – Furmanov
- Varvara Myasnikova – Anka
- Leonid Kmit – Petka
- Illarion Pevtsov – Colonel Borozdin
- Stepan Shkurat – Potapov (Petrovich), Borozdin's batman
- Vyacheslav Volkov – Elan Brigade Commander
- Nikolay Simonov – platoon commander Zhiharev
- Elena Volintseva – farmer
- Boris Chirkov – farmer
- Sergei Vasilyev – Lieutenant
- Georgiy Zhzhonov – Teryosha's, Furmanov's orderly
- Mikhail Rostovtsev – Veterinarian
- Andrei Apsolon – Red Army soldier
- Stepan Krylov – Red Army soldier
- Georgi Vasilyev – officer with a cigarette
- Victor Yablonsky – Cossack Plastun (uncredited)
- Emil Gal – vetfeldsher (uncredited)
- Konstantin Nazarenko – trouble-making partisan (uncredited)
- Pavel Leshkov – Borozdin's interlocutor (uncredited)
Chapaev follows the socialist realist style, the dominant form of art in the Soviet Union during the time period. To maintain a "realistic" depiction of the world, the camera work is predictable and repetitive, almost mechanical.
The relationship between Chapaev and Furmanov, which is central to the plot of the film, is typical for a Soviet socialist realist film. Both men are supremely competent in their respective roles as commander and commissar. Chapaev is a heroic figure who represents the common Russian man; he is uneducated, he swears, and he acts disorderly. In contrast, Furmanov, who represents the Party and Communist ideology, is more orderly and domineering; in scenes where the two interact, Furmanov is positioned higher in the frame to indicate his superior status.
Chapaev premiered on 6 November 1934, in the Leningrad cinema "Titan"; it quickly became one of the most popular films in the Soviet Union. Within the first year it was watched by 30 million people in the USSR alone. Such was the popularity of the film that an editorial in Pravda on 21 November proclaimed, "The whole country is watching Chapaev".
In a 1978 poll of cinema critics, the film was considered one of the best 100 films in history.
After the release of the film, Chapaev and his assistants Petka and Anka became Russian folklore characters. These three, together with their political commissar Furmanov, are present in a large number of Russian jokes.
The real Chapaev was already a war hero, but the film increased his heroic status further. When boys would play Reds vs. Whites, they would often imagine themselves to be Chapaev or his heroic adjutant Petka.
- Children of Chapaev: the Russian Civil War cult and the creation of Soviet identity, 1918–1941. Justus Grant Hartzok. Dissertation PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). University of Iowa. 2009. 
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