Aleksei Peshkov AKA Maxim Gorky (Aleksei Lyarsky)

I didn’t think I was going to like this movie as much as I did. All I knew of Gorky was that he was a famous Russian author and I had seen Kurosawa’s adaptation of Gorky’s The Lower Depths. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this coming of age story set in Czarist Russia. This is the first in a trilogy of films on Gorky’s life and covers from when he was a child growing up with his grandmother to when he left, still a child, into the world.

Gorky is largely an observer of what goes on around him. He sees a mixture of the absurd, the tragic, and the funny like when a member of the family needs to haul a cross on his back to a grave site:

We all have our crosses to bear, but this is ridiculous!

But a few minutes later, the cross slips and crushes him to death

All of this hints at the development of the Russian author while providing Russian national pride. While the kid is good as the future Gorky, it’s Varvara Massalitinova’s performance as his grandmother who steals the show. You can’t help but love her and the casting allows the film to do other things without having to invest time developing her place in Gorky’s life. We see her face and we know all we need to know.

Gorky meets a variety of people from an insurrectionist to a partially paralyzed kid who keeps smalls animals like a roach he calls the landlord (a dose of propaganda). Each person pushes him further away from the life his family leads toward a life of learning until he leaves. It’s all handled with a light touch that doesn’t mask the realities of Gorky’s environment, but has us see them like a child. If you can find this film, I recommend you see it.

An aside:
If you know what the grandmother is doing below then please comment.

Thanks to Minoccio what the Grandmother is doing below is keeping the Domovoi of the house happy by giving it an offering.

In her hand is what looks like a small wicker basket
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