Tsymbal & Smoljanski: Two Painters…

… Oscar Rabin and Valentina Kropivnitskaya, their lives and their art. I knew the name Rabin in beforehand and that he is exiled, living in Paris now, 90 years old, but I had never really heard the story about him as an artist in the USSR and I did not know that his wife Valentina was such an excellent artist. All that was clarified because I met Alexander Smoljanski at DOK Leipzig, who invited me to watch the two films about the artist couple. The film are introduced like this on the website:

”This is a film project in two parts showing the story of the leader of the Soviet underground artists, painter Oscar Rabin, and his wife, painter Valentina Kropivnitskaya. It is a story of painters who never betrayed their artistic principles and always fought to show how powerful a weapon nonviolent resistance can be – it’s a story of love, art and human dignity.”

I learned a lot from the two films. About the Lianozovo group of so-

called non-conformist artists from a small village outside Moscow, who rebelled against the official social realism; that was late 1950’es beginning of 1960’es. And I was reminded of the importance of the Bulldozer Exhibition in 1974 with Rabin as one of the main organisers – the bizarre name comes from the fact that the KGB sent, yes, bulldozers with water canons to stop the exhibition. It is said to have changed the art scene in USSR.

Oscar Rabin (th) sammen med kollegerne Youri Jarki og Alexander Gleser 1974

And it changed the life of Oscar Rabin, who with his family was expelled from the country to live in Paris.

The 2018 film about Rabin, made in this year where he is 90 years old, is shot in Paris with an enormous archive from his (almost) first years in USSR and including the known material with Kruschev calling modern art for perverse. Rabin’s childhood is explained, he is interviewed and colleagues and art critics talk about him. The Greek art collector Costakis and his important is mentioned in this film about an ”unofficial artist”.

And Rabin is the main storyteller in the film from 2015 about his wife Valentina Kropivnitskaya, who died in 2008. Their close love story is told by Rabin in his studio in Paris; he does so in a beautiful caring way, where he talks about this outsider in the Lianozovo school, who went her own way as an naíve artist, making fine delicate works – she used colored pencils like children do – it’s a artist who talks with love about his modest and shy wife, who did not say a lot and was not interested in publicity. In Sovietunion she painted animals, in France she turned to landscapes, dreamerish, the title of this film is rightfully ”In Search of a Lost Paradise”.

Two fine artists living and working in quite limited space. Portrayed in a classical way – lots of interviews, commentary, archive, works – conventional, yes, but the characters stand out as extraordinary.

In Search of a Lost Paradise, 2015, 52 mins. Director: Evgeny Tsymbal. Script and production: Alexander Smoljanski.

Oscar. 2018. Directors: Evgeniy Tsymbal and Alexander Smoljanski.

The film is quite new so I have no information on its festival life yet. But Rabin is celebrated in many countries where the film will get its place, I’m sure,




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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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