Julia Bobkova: The Last Waltz

It was shown at the Moscow International Film Festival in the international competition for documentaries, this fascinating film about Oleg Karavaichuk, composer and piano player from St. Petersburg, in which city I – during the years of visit to the M2M (Message to Man) – heard again and again producers wishing to make a film with/about the charismatic musical genius, as he is called by many. Totally understandable it is when you watch this work finished and released after his death in 2016, 88 years old.

Because he is a great musician, he is wonderful to look at, the way he walks, the way he talks, the way he dresses with a beret on his head, hair coming out anyway, his piano playing, close-ups on his hands almost smashing the piano keyboard, his behaviour when he performs at a concert recordings on a big screen standing with his back to the audience in a corner…His compositions.

A showman, yes, an akward one, in a film that primarily is built up

around one location, Komarovo, close to St. Petersburg, with archive material from 2002 and from now = 2015/16, I guess. He lived there as did and had done other famous artists like Anna Akhmatova, Brodsky, Shostakovich… A place to nurture creativity but now with Karavaichuk as the guide full of dilapidated houses or residents for rich people, who don’t care what they do to their neighbours: See the photo of the composer leaning on what remains of a fir tree cut down by his neighbour. A tragedy for him.

It is not easy to make a music documentary. In this case it starts a bit clumsy with clips from some of the many feature films, Karavaichuk has made the score to, but it finds its balance, lets him play and talk with enthusiasm about Wagner, while he is humming tunes and his whole body moves to accompany the music. There is a big difference in the happy mood of the composer in 2002 and the one in 2015/16, where he appears depressed at the end of a long life and what seems to be the end of Komarovo. His funeral is filmed and the scoop of the film is the presentation of the composition he has made to Komarovo, that he wanted to be public after his death. The visual side of this with his words – music, words, images – is grandiose. No hesitation to be pathetic. The right decision.

Let me end by giving you the well written synopsis of the film:  

”Documentary about Oleg Karavaichuk, eccentric musical genius and famous St. Petersburg composer, who takes his final stroll through Komarovo, a bay-side summer community just outside St. Petersburg where he spent his whole life and wrote most of his works. Karavaichuk wrote music for Russian cinema and became famous worldwide. He died durind the shootings of this film in June of 2016. His final piece, “The Komarovo Waltz”, unveiled here for the very first time, was written as a tribute to the place. The film is the reclusive composer’s eulogy to the community. It also serves as Karavoichuk’s farewell to audience as well as his last address and reminder of things that are truly important – love for your fellow man and virgin nature.This philosophical documentary that combines unique music by Karavaichuk, fragments of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and rare chronicle materials.”

And me again: A must for all festivals with art and music categories.

Russia, 2017, 78 mins.


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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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