Soviet Film Propaganda (model abstract)

Isabelle De Keghel, “Meeting on the Elbe (Vstrecha na El’be): A Visual Representation of the Incipient Cold War from a Soviet Perspective.” Cold War History 9.4 (Nov. 2009): 455-467.

Abstract by Susmitha Kudaravalli.

De Keghel analyzes the 1949 film Meeting on the Elbe directed by Griogorii Aleksandrov primarily through plot and visual motif analysis, arguing that, though not state produced, it represents the official Soviet perspective of the beginnings of the Cold War. The main, underlying principle of the movie is seen to be the ‘Two-Camp-Theory’ created by the Soviet ideologist Andrei Zhdanov. Briefly, it states that the Americans, part of the Capitalist Camp, are barbaric and concerned only with the self while the Socialist Camp fights for freedom and equality. De Keghel highlighted the usage of ‘soft power’ in this movie, which is the promotion of Soviet control in Germany through earning the respect of Germans, by helping rebuild their country, as opposed to force and violence, seen in the rape and looting the Americans employ.  The worsening relationship between the two camps is chronicled as the Americans grow reckless in their dealings with the Germans, and can be seen  not only by their immoral pursuit of ex-Nazi specialists to aid the American army but also through the visual motif of the deteriorating bridge across the Elbe River connecting both camps.  Throughout the struggle, the Soviets display a remarkable amount of lenience to not only the Americans who seem to be constantly pushing for more control and ignoring terms agreed upon at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, but also towards the unsure Germans who often respond with hostility to Soviet generosity but are eventually won over by the Soviet ideal. The visual motif of handshakes are used throughout the movie to display Soviet trust and willingness to compromise while the same handshakes are used to betray by the Americans, depicted by Mrs. Sherwood, an American spy posing as an innocent German widow for military intelligence gains. The American character is given complexity with the definition of two different ‘types’ of Americans; political and military leaders, portrayed by General MacDermott, who care only for themselves and their money; and ‘ordinary’ Americans who are oppressed, exploited, or come to believe in the Soviet ideal, such as Commander Hill who befriends and learns Soviet principles from Soviet Commander Kuz’min. [349 words]

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