Directed by Aleksander Orlov and Vladimir Naumov, Soviet Union, 1970
The Flight is based on work by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov (famous in the US for “The
Master and Margarita),
primarily his play Flight, but also his novel “The White Guard” and his
libretto “Black Sea”. The film is about a group of civilian White Russian refugees during the time
of the Russian Civil War (1918-1921). The Civil War was a time in which former Czarist officers,
aristocrats, and middle class layers tried to take back power after the Russian Revolution. Their
defeat caused a massive emigration of the defeated Russian upper classes and nobility. This film,
while proBolshevik, sympathetically covers the inner struggles and torments of people attached to
the White cause. The Flight is essentially a psychological character portrayal.
The film is in two parts. The first part takes place in the Crimea region of Russia in winter time.
The camera work is exquisite and there are constant contrasts of snow and the snowy landscape
with the individuals portrayed. The second part of the film takes place in Constantinople and Paris,
amid the vast Russian down and out emigre refugee population.
The film begins in a Russian Orthodox monastery and then appears to be centered in or near
Odessa. At this point in the Russian Civil War the White forces have little support though out
Russia and are clearly losing the war. There are scenes of chaos as panic stricken refugees attempt
to flee the country. A young academic, Professor Golubkov, a well meaning idealistic person,
forms an attachment to a young woman, Serafima, after her husband, Korzuhin, an interior
minister of one of the White Russian governments, disavows any connection with her and cruelly
abandons her at a train station in a town outside Odessa. Golubkov attempts to help her and they
fall in love. In one scene Korzuhin is revealed to be a sleazy black marketeer, attempting to
smuggle women’s fur coats on army trains.
Golubkov , Serafima and other civilians, including what appears to be a traveling circus, attach
themselves to the army of the White General Khludov. Khlodov is shown as an uncaring, amoral
martinet, allowing atrocities and outrages against the civilian population. In one scene he is boldly
criticized for committing atrocities by one of his officers. In return, Khludov has the officer hung.
Soon after this, Serafima, psychologically unhinged by her husband’s abandonment and the
atrocities she witnesses, also criticizes Khludov for his brutality. She is only saved from the same
fate as the officer by her aristocratic background and connections.
In an action which sets the moral tone for the rest of the film, Khludov has a telegraph operator
whom he suspects of Bolshevik sympathies hung.
Amidst increasing chaos in Crimea and Odessa, it becomes increasingly obvious that the White
forces have lost the war. In a remarkable scene, Khludov in the vast hallway of an aristocratic
mansion, dismisses his officers, after a few of them beg him to continue the war. In this scene and
elsewhere Khludov explains that “the people are not with us”. The psychological portrayal of
Khludov is well done. It is evident he is an increasingly confused and tormented person.
In another interesting scene Khludov meets with the Supreme Commander of the White army he
was in, General Wrangel. Beyond a thin veil of politeness it is evident that Khludov despises
Wrangel for getting him involved in the Civil War. Wrangel dismisses him from the White
army.”Are you going to just turn me out like a dismissed servant?” he asks Wrangel. “That’s
exactly what I will do” replied the commander.
On a subsequent train ride to Constantinople Khludov has recurring nightmares about his treatment
of the telegraph operator he had hung. He imagines he is being confronted by him at a trial in a
remote desert. Next to him in the dream is a gallows. As he travels into exile he is increasingly
close to a nervous breakdown.
The beginning of the second part of the film is centered around a White General Charmota in
Constantinople. Charmota is introduced in the opening scene of the first half of the film when he
shows up in a Russian Orthodox monastery disguised as a pregnant woman. Charmota is
portrayed as a somewhat sly, gruff but caring figure and is the first husband of Serafima.
In the second part of the film Charmota is shown as down and out in Constantinople, surrounded
by the vast but equally down and out White Russian emigre colony. The huge Russian population
of Constantinople is afflicted with homelessness and extreme poverty and is preyed on by thieves
and con men. The once prominent general is now attempting to eke out a living selling trinkets to
tourists. In an early scene Charmota looses everything he owns when a cockroach race, put on by
the same theater group which had earlier traveled with Khludov’s army in Crimea and on which he
bet what little money he had, turns into a riot.
Charmota sadly returns to his apartment. He is living with his wife and Serafima. They are about
to get kicked out of their apartment. An argument ensues as Serafima discuses prostitution as a
way to survive.
In a chance encounter Professor Golubkov, also in Constantinople, meets Charnota. Golubkov has
greater financial means and they reunite just in time to prevent Serafima from engaging in
prostitution. Golubkov tells Charnota that he feels that Korzuhin, now in Paris, owes a moral debt
to Serafima, whom he abandoned. In a seemingly Quixotic move they decide to go to Paris to
confront Korzuhin, who is now living the life of a wealthy aristocrat. Charmota places Serafima in
the care of Khludov, who appears to be somewhat well off and has a relatively nice apartment in
Constantinople. In contrast to his earlier attitude during the Civil War, Khludov genuinely appears
to care for other people and attempts to reassure Serafima. At this point however both Khludov
and Serafima appear to be torn by moral anguish concerning their previous life. Their past world is
Much of the rest of the film takes place in Paris. When Golubkov and Charmota arrive the once
elite Charmota is literally in rags. At one point he is so poor that he has to travel around Paris in
his underwear. There is a scene which is both tragic and comic in which he attempts to manipulate
a drunk beggar along a riverfront area into giving him his trousers.
Charmota and Golubkov finally locate and confront Korzuhin. Korzuhin is a very wealthy man
and lives in a luxurious house. He appears to be something of an aesthete. He is living with a
woman who, in an analogue to Charmota’s and Korzuhin’s relationship with Serafima, also had a
relationship with Golubkov. This odd coincidence makes the point that Golubkov and Korzuhin,
and the women in their lives, are psychological opposites or “shadows” in Jungian psychology, of
At first Korzuhin and his servant attempt to drive their two poverty stricken compatriots away.
Woman spots Charmota and talks Korzuhin into letting them stay. They play cards, reminisce, and
get very drunk. Golubkov passes out. There is a long discussion between Korzuhin and Golubkov
in which Golubkov confronts Korzuhin with his moral corruption. Charmota knows the details of
his abuse of the two women he has lived with. Though an intense psychological confrontation
Charmota gets Korzuhin to give him a large sum of money, enough for Golubkov to take care of
Charmota and Golubkov return to Constaninople and are reunited with Serafima, and Khludov.
Initially the four of them are in anguish over what they should do next. While now financially
comfortable, they are faced with a purposeless future. Serafima and Golbkov decide they should
return to Russia, now the Soviet Union, and help contribute to the new society being created there.
Since Khludov, is a former White general guilty of atrocities, this is not an option open for him. It
appears that participation in the new society is not an option for Charmota, either, who appears
destined to fade into obscurity as a likeable rogue. They can only wish the young people well and
watch them off as they return to their homeland.
“The Flight” is a masterful psychological portrait of civilian and military White refugees after the
Russian Civil War. It shows sympathy for the situation of people attempting find meaning in a
world in which the social background which has produced them has vanished.