A film about Anna Akhmatova…


Akhmatova's famous portrait by Nathan Altman

Some time ago, I read Anatoly Nayman’s Remembering Anna Akhmatova — or at at least I started to.  My reading was interrupted by commissioned review, but I had read enough to understand that I had run across that rare phenomenon: in Akhmatova, Nayman had found someone whose every word, gesture, or action was of utmost importance, and must be recorded.

So when Elena Danielson, Hoover Archivist extraordinaire, told me that Helga Landauer’s  A Film About Anna Akhmatova was being shown at Wallenberg Hall on February 4, I was keenly interested.

Unfortunately, I was also in a wheelchair at the time, and the weather was miserable and the parking far away.  Elena told me later that even in the torrential rain, the auditorium was packed.


Akhmatova's funeral: Brodsky at right, with Nayman behind him. Rein is at left.

I can see why.  Helga, a Moscow-born writer and filmmaker who lives in downtown Palo Alto, kindly sent me a DVD.

The same urgency comes across in the film, which features unusual footage of pre-revolutionary Russia, as well as Nayman’s testimony.  As Joseph Brodsky said of Nayman’s book, it’s “chief virtue … is the intensity of the author’s attention to his subject.” The film also features, unforgettably, Akhmatova reading her own poems.

Nitpicking:  some of the clips are used somewhat repetitively.  And unless I missed it, there’s no explanation of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the soundtrack — it was one of Akhmatova’s favorite pieces of music, and became so for her protégé Brodsky as well.  Better translations of Akhmatova’s poetry into English are available than the ones used here.

The film takes a birth-to-death approach to Akhmatova’s life, rather than focusing on Nayman’s firsthand experience of Akhmatova in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  He was, after all, on of Akhmatova’s famous Pleiad, her “magic choir” — including poets Yevgeny Rein and Dmitry Bobyshev as well as Nayman and Brodsky (Nayman does show a few of Brodsky’s photos from the time — as I recall, the only mention of the Nobel laureate). Irena Grudszinska Gross, writing of the importance of literary friendships in the careers of young poets in Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky: A Fellowship of Poets, notes that the cloudless period of this net of friendships lasted five years —  “In this history of literary friendships, it will endure forever.”

Well, if one wishes to be filled in on that part of the picture, one can always find his book.

The film also includes some memorable formulations from Nayman, a poet himself — I think particularly of his remark that poetry is the process by which word becomes law.

A trailer is here.

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2 Responses to “A film about Anna Akhmatova…”

  1. Elena Says:

    I particularly liked the historic audio of AA reciting her own verse in that archaic incantatory Russian style…More than in English verse, Russian poetry requires the human voice…now scientific research is proving how much emotional information is conveyed by the tone of voice….AA just intuitively knew all this. Also liked Nayman’s story about trying to get AA to work more efficiently, she said she had done one thing that day, and one thing a day was enough….very zen she was…

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Wish I could keep to one thing a day…

    Say, Elena, do you think Joseph Brodsky picked up his famous reading style (which startled Americans) from her?

    Clearly, I’ll have to give this film several more viewings.