Hryhorii Hrycher


Hryhorii Hrycher (also Cherikover; born Hryhorii Chervynskii) was a Ukrainian film director and screenwriter. His remaining films preserve a unique glimpse of a lost world, showing everyday life of Jewish small towns (shtetls) and neighborhoods in Ukraine in the times of massive political change.

Hryhorii Chervynskii was born in Poltava in 1898, in a worker’s family. He received his education in Poltava, Kyiv and Moscow before starting a career in movies in 1924-1925, at VUFKU Studios. Hrycher’s first project was Oleksii Hranovskii’s «Jewish Happiness,» to which he co-wrote a screenplay. Two years later, Hrycher makes his directing debut with a spy comedy «Suspicious Luggage». It is considered lost, same as most of his subsequent VUFKU productions: «Wandering Stars» (1926, after Sholem Aleichem, screenplay by Isaac Babel), «The Fair at Sorochyntsi» (1927, after Nikolai Gogol), «On the Eve» (1929, after Aleksandr Kuprin, starring Amvrosii Buchma).

One more adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s short prose, «Through Tears,» hit the screens in 1929 and became Hrycher’s main international success. Somewhat sad and melancholic comedy feature was premiered in New York City on November 19, 1933, and was received enthusiastically. The only known surviving copy of «Through Tears» is an American one, re-edited and dubbed in Yiddish.

Mykola Bazhan, an editor of «Kino» magazine at the time, wrote the screenplay for Hrycher’s first Ukrainfilm Studios production. «Suburban Quarters» (1930) deals with painful issues of religious and ethnic prejudice, but the movie remains light on its feet, dynamic in its editing and heartwarmingly lyrical. Hrycher’s cinema beautifully captures the essence of what was to come in the 1930s: the happy ending is guaranteed by komsomol group, whose members decide to take more direct involvement in a young couple’s private affairs, and by the protagonists’ friend, ecstatic to move from his house to the komunka (communal apartment).

In 1931, Hrycher made a propaganda documentary «First Cruise,» depicting an international voyage of the steamboat «Abkhazia». Critique of «capitalist block» continues with «Crystal Palace» (1934). Long gone is the playful tone of «Suspicious Luggage»: here we witness a tragedy of Western European intellectual, an architect who chooses death over betrayal of his working class comrades. Yurii Yekelchik’s cinematography and Stepan Shahaida’s leading performance deserve a special mention. While criticizing the rise of Nazism in Germany, Hrycher and Yekelchik took a chance to pay a surprise homage to the German expressionist cinema of the 1920s.

In 1942 in collaboration with Ihor Savchenko, Hrycher made a rural comedy musical «Young Years». After that he went to war. The director came back to work in Tashkent in 1944, and died soon, on November 30, 1945.