The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom (1924)

The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom

(Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma) 

Yuliya Solntseva / Igor Ilyinsky / Anna Dmokhovskaya / Nikolai Tsereteli / Leonid Baratov /  Written by  Faiko  & Otsep / Art Direction by  Vladimir  Ballyuzek & Sergei Kozlovsky / Cinematography Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky / Director  Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky

In a refreshing break from the usual heady  fare of the Soviet propaganda machine, Igor Vladimirovich Ilyinsky steps assuredly into Keystone territory, complete with inebriate Chaplin waddle, and Ford Sterling grimaces & gurns. Ilyinsky plays the lovesick Nikodim, who pines away his monotonous office hours living for the stolen moments spent each day on a busy Moscow street corner with beautiful Cigarette vender Yuliya Solntseva. Yulieta (Julieta), she of the Frida Kahlo eyebrows and sparkling realism, is a visual tonic to the senses, a breath of fresh air in the Soviet Silents, reminiscent of Chaplin’s flesh and blood love interest Edna Purviance.  Each day Ilyinsky spends his earnings on buying cigarettes  from his dream girl, with the charmingly sad realization on out part that he doesn’t even smoke.  Naturally this love is unrequited, and to complicate matters, Ilyinsky is perpetually pursued by office dragon lady (Anna Dmokhovskaya), while Yulieta herself  is romanced by smitten cine-cameraman (Nikolai Tsereteli) as he shoots films on the streets of Moscow.

On the surface there is little original in all this, at least nothing to lift it above the usual slapstick fare of the late Hollywood 10’s, but there’s something imperceptibly hypnotizing from beginning to end. It’s partly due to the relaxed and characterful smoothness of  the camerawork, travelling with imperceptible ease around the Moscow streets in a romantic shimmy.. but mostly because of the poetic oddness of the mood created. Yulieta, the Cigarette Girl is drawn inexorably into the role of film star, taking us into further into familiar Keystone territory, breaking the fourth wall to explore the film-making process, and layering artifice upon artifice with a screening of a screening. Not quite a Droste effect, but the possibilities are already forming. Where the film works best is in it’s ability to take it’s time, wander about, meander through delightful little gestures and visual thoughts, in a way that contemporary American films were restricted to fast pace and with a sharper eye on cost of production. Europe took more risks, and let the pot boil a little longer, in hopes that something special would drift to the surface.  

There are a few faded prints out there with tiresome musical accompaniment, so unless you want to spoil your initial experience, I’d advise seeking out the beautifully restored KINO edition. Aside from the surprisingly crisp image, it has an evocative new score with just the right combination of haunting Russian folk music, combined with a charming comic irony. Upon it’s release ‘The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom’ was greeted with little praise from the Russian critics, who thought it vulgar and far too American in it’s sentimentality, but the general cinema goers were much more enthusiastic. So much so, that Ilyinsky shot to national fame practically overnight, even having a planet named after him. The rather charmingly named ‘3622-Ilyinsky’ still twinkles away up there somewhere. How many other film stars can claim to have been immortalized in the very stars? Yuliya Solntseva herself joined Ilyinski in the heavens when she went on to play ‘Aelita: The Queen of Mars’ in 1924, and eventually became one of Russia’s most respected Directors, in her own right. 


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~COMING SOON : MISS MEND (1926) with the intrepid Natalya Glan~

2 comments on “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom (1924)

  1. Thombeau says:

    Well, she was quite the looker!

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