Nine Days of One Year

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(1961) USSR

Directed by Mikhail Romm

Written by Mikhail Romm and Daniil Khrabrovitskii. Cinematography by German Lavrov. Art direction by Georgii Kolganov. Music by Dzhon Ter-Tatevosian. With Aleksei Batalov, Innokentii Smoktunovskii, Tat'iana Lavrova, and Nikolai Plotnikov.

In Russian with English subtitles

During experiments at an institute for nuclear physics, a young scientist, Gusev, receives a dangerous dose of radiation. At his own risk, he decides to continue the experiments, which could lead to a ground-breaking discovery, but also to his death. The road of scientific prometheanism he has chosen to follow makes him a stranger in his own home and marriage. The existential challenge Gusev faces is compounded by an ethical dilemma of universal significance: what is the meaning of his sacrifice in a world that uses nuclear power for self-extermination?
The film hit the screens in the beginning of 1962 and soon became an emblematic text of the 60s. In it, for the first time in Soviet cinema, the viewer was allowed to enter the fascinating world of nuclear science, a realm hitherto concealed from the eye of the movie camera. The film owed much of its initial appeal to its mise-en-scéne. Most of the footage was shot on location in a research institute for nuclear physics in Siberia. Physicists were, in every respect, the supermen of the 1960s in the Soviet Union, and Romm's film has its own share in their idolization. For a society desperately trying to recover the ideals tarnished in the years of Stalinism, scientific progress offered a much-needed springboard. For Romm, it also offered a new sphere of liminal experience in which human values and ideological positions can be brought into sharp focus and tested for viability.

Director Mikhail Romm (1901-1971) belongs to the generation of filmmakers who came to cinema on the wave of the grandiose social transformations of the first quarter of the 20th century. Among his most acclaimed films are Lenin in October and Lenin in 1918 (1937-39), and The Russian Question (1948). In 1961 Romm released Nine Days of One Year, the film that became a revelation of the 'Thaw' generation. In 1965 he shot the documentary Ordinary Fascism, which was an attempt to provide an answer to the question of why the 20th century had given birth to this appalling phenomenon. The film shook the world. During the Thaw Romm taught at the All-Union State Filmmaking Institute. Such directors as Andrei Tarkovskii and Marlen Khutsiev came from his workshop. Romm did not live to finish his second major film about the 20th century And Still I Believe, which was completed by his disciples.