Battleship Potemkin

The Battleship Potemkin (in Russian :  Броненосец “Потёмкин” , Bronenossets “Potiomkin” ) is a silent Soviet film directed by Sergei Eisenstein , released in 1925 . It deals with the mutiny of the battleship Potemkin in the port of Odessa in 1905 , the insurrection and the repression which ensued in the city. The film was banned for a long time in many Western countries because of “Bolshevik propaganda” and “incitement to class violence”. It is considered one of the greatest propaganda filmsall time. He was chosen in 1958 as the best film of all time by 117 international critics at the Universal Exhibition of Brussels 1 , 2 . The film has entered the public domain in most countries of the world.


The film consists of five parts:

  1. “Men and worms” (Люди и черви): sailors protest against eating rotten meat.
  2. “Drama in the bay” (Драма на тендре): sailors and their leader Vakulintchuk revolt. The latter died assassinated.
  3. “Death demands justice” (Мёртвый взывает): the body of Vakulintchuk is carried by the crowd of the people of Odessa came to acclaim the sailors like heroes.
  4. “Odessa Stairs” (Одесская лестница): The soldiers of the Imperial Guard massacred the population of Odessa in a staircase that seems endless.
  5. “Meeting with the squadron” (Встреча с эскадрой): the squadron whose task is to stop the revolt of Potemkin refuses orders.

The revolt of the crew of the battleship Potemkin on 14 June 1905 ( in the Gregorian calendar ), during the Russian Revolution of 1905 , is presented as a precursor to the October Revolution ( 1917 ) and from the point of view of the insurgents.

The battleship reproduces, in the microcosm of its crew, the divisions of Russian society and its inequalities. One of the causes of the mutiny is the issue of food. The officers presented as cynical and cruel force the crew to consume rotten meat, while they themselves maintain a privileged lifestyle among the crew (scene of the dishes, “God, give me my daily bread” ).

The staircase scene

The most famous scene of the film is the massacre of civilians on the steps of the monumental staircase of Odessa (also called the Primorsky or the ” Potemkin Staircase ” ). In this scene, Tsarist soldiers in their white summer tunics seem to descend the endless staircase with a rhythmic pace like machines and shooting at the crowd. A detachment of Cossacks on horseback loads the crowd down the stairs. The victims who appear on the screen are an old woman with a pince-nez, a young boy with his mother, a student in uniform and a teenage schoolgirl. This scene lasts six minutes. The plan of a mother, who dies on the ground, releasing a pram that runs down the steps, uses aTracking before diving, revolutionary filming for the time.

In reality, this scene never took place. Eisenstein used it to dramatize the film, demonize the tsarist guard and the political power in place. In 1991 the staircase scene was taken over by Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko to dramatize human suffering during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 3 . However, this scene is based on the fact that there were many demonstrations in Odessa itself (and not on the stairs), following the arrival of Potemkin in his port. The London Times and the British consul reported that the troops fired on the crowd, which resulted in a significant loss of life (the exact number of casualties

Impact of the scene of the pram on culture

The theme of the landau escaping the mother and down the stairs will be taken by Brian De Palma in The Incorruptible , except that the scene is idling and in a station. Terry Gilliam in Brazil took over the scene, but this time it’s a vacuum cleaner down the steps after a maid had been killed during an exchange of gunfire subsequent to the release of Sam Lowry 4 .

It was also used parodically in The Simpsons or by Woody Allen in War and Love , as well as in Bananas , by David Zucker in Is there a cop to save Hollywood? (who actually parodies The Untouchables ), by Ettore Scola in We loved each other so much , by Dummies in The City of Fear , by Anno Saul in Kebab Connection as well as by Peter Jackson in Braindead . [ref. necessary] .

Technical sheet

  • Director: Sergei Eisenstein
  • Scenario: Sergei Eisenstein from Nina Agadjanova-Chutko’s story
  • Editing: Grigori Aleksandrov – Sergei Eisenstein
  • Sets: Vassili Rakhals
  • Deputies: A. Antonov; Mikhail Gomarov, Levshine, Maxime Schtrauch
  • Director: Yakov Bliokh
  • Subtitles: Nikolai Aseyev
  • Music: Edmund Meisel , Dmitry Shostakovich , Nikolay Kryukov  (ru)
  • Photo: Edouard Tissé – Vladimir Popov
  • Production: Goskino (Moscow)
  • Producer: Jacob Bliokh
  • Filming locations: Port and city of Odessa and Sevastopol
  • Distribution: Goskino – Mosfilm
  • Production format: 35 mm
  • Projection format: 1.33: 1
  • Country of origin: Soviet Union
  • Language: Mute and inter-titles in Russian
  • Genre: Historical drama
  • Duration: 68 to 80 min. according to the versions
  • Release dates:
    •  Soviet Union :(world premiere at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow )
    •  France :
    •  United States :(first in New York )


  • Grigory Alexandrov : Lieutenant Guiliarovski, second in command
  • Alexander Antonov : Grigory Vakulintchouk, the Bolshevik sailor
  • Vladimir Barsky : Commander Golikov
  • Ivan Bobrov : Young sailor, the “blue” conscript struck during his sleep
  • Julia Eisenstein : the woman with piglet
  • Sergei Eisenstein : Citizen of Odessa
  • Andreï Faït : A recruit
  • Constantin Isodorovich Feldman : the student delegated by the revolutionaries of Odessa to the crew of Potemkin, role he had held in his existence.
  • A. Glaouberman : Aba, the boy killed on the stairs
  • Glotov : the antisemitic provocateur
  • Mikhail Gomorov : Matushenko
  • Korobei : veteran seaman, cul-de-jatte
  • Alexandre Levchine : The second master, petty officer
  • Marusov : an officer
  • Vladimir Mikhailovich Uralsky
  • N. Poltavseva : the teacher wearing an eyeglass
  • Prokopenko : the mother of Aba
  • Protopopov : old man
  • Repnikova : a woman on the stairs
  • Maxime Maximovich Strauch
  • Beatrice Vitoldi : the woman with the pram
  • Zerenine : the student
  • Anonymous actors:
    • a driver: the doctor-major
    • a gardener: the pope

Genesis of the film

Battleship Potemkin is a command movie. In fact, the State Commission ordered a film to Serguei Mikhailovich Eisenstein to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the 1905 Revolution . It is therefore a didactic work but the director has kept a great freedom of artistic creation to evoke the subject. The Soviet state decided to use the cinema as an instrument of propaganda, but the filmmakers during the period of the New Economic Policy (period of economic and political easing initiated by Lenin) were able to produce films that did not follow the letter. the line of the Communist Party. Eisenstein, who had directed the previous year a feature very noticed, La Grève, had four months to shoot and edit the film. So he reduced his starting scenario, copious “monograph of an era” written in collaboration with Nina Agadjanova, focusing the action on one episode and one: the mutiny of the sailors of a warship in the Black Sea , near from the port of Odessa, the1 .


After La Greve , released the year before, Eisenstein continues to experiment with his editing theories . Initially propaganda, like all Soviet films of the period, the film was a huge success in the Soviet Union and marked the history of cinema by its inventions and technical qualities and the epic breath given by Eisenstein.

Several sound versions have been superimposed on the silent images of Eisenstein. They are the work of Dmitry Shostakovich , Nikolai Kryukov  (ru) in the restored Soviet version of 1976, and Edmund Meisel . It is the latter which was originally used. Eisenstein, however, stopped his participation with Meisel from the day when a performance in London – with a brisk rhythm lavished by Meisel – made, at one point, laugh the whole room. It is then that one realizes the importance of the concordance – or non-concordance – between image and sound.

A “new version” was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. It includes intertitles containing speeches of Trotsky , removed already at the time, it is not part of the official pantheon of communism wanted by Stalin .

The genius of editing is also his fault. Eisenstein, who had “made his hand” by going back to Western films, assimilates the power of montage to that of discourse. Today, this montage is fragmentary: it has been retouched many times for propaganda purposes by the Soviet regime .

Around the film

  • “Designed to commemorate the anniversary of the failed revolution of 1905, the film was originally intended as The Year 1905 , to evoke all the events that had marked it. However, prisoner of the deadlines imposed on him – the film must be finished before the end of the year – and delayed by terrible meteorological conditions, Eisenstein decides to abandon the initial scenario and to retain only the episode of the Mutiny Potemkin, the latter having the advantage of being able to be turned on the Black Sea , where the weather is more lenient. “
  • “… Its public broadcast will only be allowed in France in 1953! Until that date, it was only visible in cinematheques and film clubs. “

Two excerpts from the Ciné … club booklet whose director of the publication was Jean-François Davy .

  • Julia Eisenstein, who plays the role of a woman holding a piglet, is the director’s mother.
  • To learn about the historical facts about the riots in Odessa and the mutiny of Potemkin, the magazine L’Illustration , now online, provides a large amount of articles written by his special envoys and photographs taken by his reporters.

Promotional Poster Gallery

Notes and references

  1. ↑ a and b “The Battleship” Potemkin “”  [ archive ] , on Le Monde diplomatique (accessed March 14, 2016 ) .
  2. ↑ ” Battleship Potemkin ”  [ archive ] , on City of music .fr , (accessed January 17, 2017 ) .
  3. ↑ Protzman Ferdinand. “Landscape • Photographs of Time and Place”. National Geographic , 2003, ( ISBN  0-7922-6166-6 ) .
  4. ↑ AlloCine, ” Trivia film Battleship Potemkin – Screenrush ”  [ archive ] , on Screenrush (accessed 14 March 2016 ) .

Leave a comment