With this documentary about the 1973 cruise that Dmirty Shostakovich went on, organised by the Soviet government, Oksana Dvornichenko and Helga Landauer try to shed light on the mysterious life of the icon considered the greatest Russian composer of the 20th century.
In 1973, at the twilight of his life, embarks on a Soviet Union ship to travel from Moscow to New York City. During the journey, many concerts and musical films were screened, most of them being propaganda of the USSR. Compelled to act as a cultural ambassador, the shy and reserved Shostakovich became a public figure. But the film mostly reflects a thoughtful man, spending most of his free time recalling his eventful past, fearing his uncertain future, due to polio quickly decreasing his physical capacities.
Kitsch as the Soviet Union, the aesthetics of the documentary is as interesting as disturbing. A visual background full of contradictions, the same contradictions agitating the master's creativity, torn between his will to compose music for "the masses," depicting social struggles as powerful harmonies, and the composition of more experimental chamber music pieces and operas.
The nine days of travel constitute the chapters of this portrait, combining private fragments of his life, but also music and words of a man getting old. Many sequences are fascinating, such as his working hours composing the operas The Nose or Lady Macbeth. Others, indirectly linked to the musician, suggest a highlight on a whole era, since Shostakovich witnessed the birth and the decline of the regime.
This relevant confrontation of art and politics sheds lights on the artistic vision of a persevering man, who knew how to avoid the destiny of many of his compatriots. By accomplishing himself as an artist, travelling across the world, he knew how to flee from the control of the political forces considering the artists as other instruments of power. In the end, his music is to enjoy as a painting, showing fear, despair, suffering, but also the hope of a whole generation. Maybe this life as an artist, close to an historical drama, can be seen as a warning on the dangers of abdication, and the serious consequences of a totalitarian system.