Raduga [The Rainbow] (1944)

Director: Mark Donskoy
Writer: Wanda Wasilewska
Based on: her own novel
Cast: Natalya Uzhviy, Nina Alisova, Elena Tyapkina, Valentina Ivashova, Anton Dunaysky, Anna Lisyanskaya, Hans Klering, Nikolai Bratersky, Vladimir Chobur
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 27.10.2019

In the middle of nowhere in the Ukraine, there’s a village that is occupied by the Nazis who have instated an iron rule on the mostly female, old or very young population. The men, and some women, too, are off fighting – either in the war as soldiers, or as partisans in the area. Olena (Natalya Uzhviy) was one of the partisans, but she decided to return to the village to have her baby. But once there, the Nazis lean hard on her to reveal the whereabouts of the other partisans.

Raduga is a propaganda film meant to inspire resistance which is an interesting double goal for the film to handle. But Raduga definitely knows what it’s doing.

The film poster showing a woman wrapped in a scarf in front of a barbed wire fence.

On the surface it may look like propaganda and resistance are contradictory concepts – isn’t propaganda designed to ensure compliance with a state or other governing body? But when you look at it more closely, of course, they are more than closely linked: for propaganda to work, you need to be able to resist other governing bodies. And in the best case, you resist because of your deeply held, (apparently) personal convictions. And that is what Raduga does: shows that the simple people resist the Nazis and their cruelties, to fight them despite all odds being stacked in the Nazis’ favor. Their efforts – that come from their inner convictions – are heroic and brave. They are heroic and brave.

If that sounds like I have issues with fighting against Nazis, I really don’t. But I do have issues with propaganda. It makes me very uneasy, even when I agree with its cause as is the case here. Because who is to say that the next cause is one I could get behind as well?

Two women with numbers hanging around their necks and tools in their hands.

Be that as it may, with Raduga, Donskoy created a masterpiece of propaganda cinema. It’s emotionally effective and affective, both with the cruelties of the Nazis (do not look for a subtle portrayal of them here – they are villains, pure and simple – and that’s perfectly okay) and with the bravery of the village folk who use their meager means in any way they can. All of them together. All of them, that is, but one woman who has an affair with a Nazi officer to save her own skin. She’s probably the most harshly judged character in the entire film, harsher even than the Nazis. From a propaganda perspective, that is very understandable, but it didn’t sit right with me, especially given the undercurrent of misogyny.

In any case, Raduga is well worth seeing. And if it is able to inspire people to fight against Nazis (as is – again – much needed, unfortunately), I really have nothing against that either.

A woman clutching a baby, armed men standing behind her.

Summarizing: Interesting indeed.

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