Structured around a 1973 Soviet propaganda cruise to the United States that Shostakovich participated in two years before his death, this movie parallels the ocean voyage with his personal journey from child prodigy to bitter tool of the Politburo. Mixing Soviet propaganda films with snippets of symphonies and rare film of this composer at work, the directors, Oksana Dvornichenko and Helga Landauer, struggle to portray a man compromising his art to save his life.

Yet their approach is too scattershot to enlighten, and the archival film too often lacks context. As we jump back and forth from shipboard frivolities to ecstatic public adorations of Stalin, the movie’s pleasures are episodic and random: synchronized street ballets performed by beaming girls in bathing suits, Paul Robeson singing a Russian folk song, Shostakovich confessing his hatred of movies and love of Guy de Maupassant.

And if the composer’s motivations remain murky, the triumphalism of his music so perfectly matches the aesthetics of Soviet agitprop that his beliefs seem almost beside the point. This is music for the masses.


Opens today in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Oksana Dvornichenko and Helga Landauer; narrated by George Watts and Ms. Landauer; director of photography, Juliy Olshvang; edited by Alexander Sokin and Vladimir Samorodov; produced by Ms. Dvornichenko and Darya Zhuk; released by Horovod in association with Turnstyle TV. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village. Running time: 75 minutes. This film is not rated.