A provincial Russian town. The monotonous life of
factory worker Pasha Stroganova is interrupted by two events. First,
she is unexpectedly cast in the role of Joan of Arc in a film.
Around the same time, she meets and falls in love with a married man,
Arkadii, who leaves his wife and moves in with Pasha….
– Soviet Feature Films 1970-71: An Annotated Catalogue
Of all the brilliant Soviet directors of the 1960s, Panfilov was the
only one who in his very first film (No Path Through the Fire, 1967)
attempted to reflect on the myth of the October Revolution and the
Civil War by analyzing the "long-term results" of historical
cataclysm. In Debut, Panfilov develops his innovative strategy in the
context of a contemporary fairytale, a genre that was seemingly free
of historical parallels that were risky for the time.
The story of a provincial "factory girl" starts out as a comedy of
manners, but towards the end develops into a social drama. Almost by
accident the homely young woman is cast as Joan of Arc in a movie,
and will become a star, and will start to believe in "changes of
fate" and in herself. But the ball is over, the candles are out.
Cinderella can only return to her dirty pots and pans. The great
Utopia is in ruins. The mythologeme of the "shining path" does not
work. The happy ending is cancelled, though the classic "Russian
finale" returns: when everything seems like it will turn out all
right, in the end you are left in tears.
Panfilov's twist on the popular myth violates many "norms" of the
communist Cinderella, especially her "family situation." If
Cinderella achieved a happy personal life, Pasha is in love with a
man who is infantile, a pure product of official Soviet gender
politics. Feminine masculinization backfires towards the man, who
acquires feminine features and plays the role of the spoiled child
and the object of the female libido.
– Elena Stishova, "The Adventures of Cinderella in the Land of the
Bolsheviks," Iskusstvo kino [Film Art] 5(1997), p.
… Pasha must cast off the fetters of her workaday routine,… transcend
the spell of being average, spend time in Joan of Arc's armor,
understand the value of a royal gesture-condemn or show mercy, go to
the stake in the name of an idea, of truth, and only then be born
again, as a human being. And it doesn't matter that Pasha's talent
as an actress emerged at the wrong time, that it was of no use to the
patrons of the arts; her soul has awakened and learned what mercy and
self-denial are. The soul of one human being is saved, but this
human being is doomed in Soviet society, in which there is not yet
any demand for individuality.
– Irina Shilova, …And My Cinema, p. 132
Gleb Panfilov was born in the
Siberian city of Magnitogorsk in 1934. After working as a engineer,
he studied cinematography at the All-Union State Filmmaking Institute
(VGIK) from 1960 to 1963, and directing at the Advanced Directing and
Screenwriting Courses (Moscow) 1965-67. Panfilov writes most of his
own scripts, and has directed stage productions (e.g., Hamlet,
Moscow 1977). His other films include No Path Through the Fire (1967), Theme (1979),
Valentina (1981), Vassa (1983), and Mother (1990). His most recent
film is The Romanovs (2000).