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Salt for Svanetia

(Sol Svanetii)
USSR 1930. Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov. 48 min. DCP

Little known outside the former Soviet Union, this startling, surreal ethnographic treasure anticipates Buñuel’s Las Hurdes (aka Land Without Bread) and was directed by Georgia-born Mikhail Kalatozov, whose long career includes the Palme d’Or-winning The Cranes Are Flying (1957) and the remarkable I am Cuba (1964). The film depicts, with visual bravado and lyrical intensity, harsh living conditions and medieval traditions in a mountain community in the Caucasus cut off from civilization. Many of the film’s images — pagan-like animal sacrifices; a mother squeezing breast milk onto the grave of her child — retain their power to shock. “Sur-realist in the literal sense of the term ... I wish that Kalatozov’s early masterpiece were better known” (Jay Leyda, Kino).