The Ascent: Out in the Cold
Larisa Shepitko was born in eastern Ukraine in 1938. Her mother was a schoolteacher; her father, who left the family, fought in World War II. Her mother raised her and her two siblings on her own, and the moment Larisa graduated from school, she was on the road to Moscow to study filmmaking. She was sixteen and sure of her vocation.
She entered the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK), where Andrei Tarkovsky was then still studying. The war had been permanently etched into the minds of Soviet children, who had witnessed its atrocities or lived with their effects. By the time of the cultural thaw that began after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, they were beginning to be able to express in film and literature what they had seen, and in this way analyze it beyond politics and psychology.
At film school, Shepitko found her mentor in Alexander Dovzhenko, a major figure of early Soviet cinema. The realist films being made throughout Europe in the postwar period provide a glimpse of a time before women had or expected much. We still stirred the batter and shook out the broom and changed the sheets by turning them over. (The last children to witness this have almost disappeared.) But Shepitko was destined for more.