A Russian classic by Boris Barnet, Outskirts is a technically impressive film, from around the time sound in films just started, that tells the story of a small village town on the Russian-German border during World War I.
The film starts with normal everyday life of the town going into turmoil starting with a strike in the local shoe factory. Soon enough the war breaks out with a German attack and it is at this point that relationships between friends, factory workers, brothers, and family begin to strain. The film from then on follows the life of men from the town at the frontline and the life of the people they have left behind along with the German POWs who end up in the town after the war starts.
Outskirts is a film that has stark emotional highs and lows. There are moments of extreme comedy and just as in life these moments make the audience uneasy as they are almost always followed by tragic events that break the heart. These moments are heightened when news about men dying in war reaches the town just as German POWs are being given permission to move around amongst the residents to work and earn a living. A sense of despair is felt by the audience because of an expected tragedy on the onset of unexpected love between a German POW and a local girl; a love between two individuals who speak in languages that the other doesn't understand, and yet their attraction has the innocence of a first crush.
One of the scenes that depicts the emotional complexities of the period takes place inside the POW camp as the camera moves from one side of a room starting with two men playing cards, smiling, followed by a group of men gravely looking at a dying man in the next bed, followed by a man shaving his beard in an everyday fashion. The camera then moves back as the now dead man is removed, the men playing cards shift their game to a nearby bed as a mark of respect, and soon enough the empty space left by the dead man is taken by a new inmate. All this takes place in a rather subtle manner as if it is the normal way of life.
These dilemmas of emotions faced by the locals, the German POWs, and the men returning from the frontline are beautifully presented in the film and show a side of war that is often ignored.
Technically, the film presents numerous instances of marvel. From the moment in the beginning where a man looks at the audience and winks after just having picked-up a girl successfully to a later time in the film when the war has been going on for a few years and machines have taken over most of the work in factories, the camera work is simply spectacular as the film cuts from the shoe-making machines to soldiers dying in the trenches by machine guns. The sound effects of the film might seem sketchy at times, but the film proves to be a great comparison piece to see how sound has progressed over the years and also is a study into the intricacies of various sounds.
Outskirts doesn't hide away from making a social commentary as a soldier at one point comments at the absurdity of war by saying, "We don't want to fight, they don't want to fight, but we're in the fourth year of war".
Outskirts is a film that signifies the power of people; the power to go on a strike and demand a better way of life, the power to fight for the country, the power to love the enemy, the power to defy your own father, the power to stand up against your own nation for what is right, and eventually the power of revolution.
Outskirts is classic cinema at its best.
Release Date: 12 November 2012
Running Time: 99 minutes