26 April 2019

Elina Bystritskaya (1928-2019)

Actress Elina Bystritskaya (1928-2019) was one of the most beautiful women of the Soviet cinema. She is best known for her role of Axinia in the epic film trilogy of Mikhail Sholokhov's novel Tikhiy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (1957-1958) by Sergei Gerasimov. She passed away today, 26 April 2019, in Moscow. Bystritskaya was 91.

Elina Bystritskaya
Russian postcard, 1966.

Elina Bystritskaya (1928-2019)
Russian multiview postcard, no. 115, 1958. Photos from above: Elina Bystritskaya in Bogatyr idyot v Marto/The bogatyr goes to Marto (Yevgeni Bryunchugin, Sigizmund Navrotsky, 1954), Neokonchennaya povest/Unfinished Story (Fridrikh Ermler, 1955) and Tikhiy Don/Quiet Flows the Don (Sergei Gerasimov, 1957).

Elina Bystritskaya
Russian postcard.

Socialist Realist Film

Elina Avraamovna Bystritskaya was born in 1928 in Kiev, Soviet Union (now: Ukrain). She was born to a Jewish family. Her father, Avraam Petrovich Bystritsky, was a notable medical doctor in Kiev, and her mother, Esther Isaakovna, worked as a medical administrator.

Young Elina worked as a nurse helping her parents in a Soviet military hospital during World War II. She was decorated by the Soviet State for her contribution. She went on to study as a medical nurse at Nezhin Nursing School, specialising in gynecology. She went to work at a gynecological clinic.

At the same time Elina started being engaged in amateur performances. Shortly after becoming a nurse, Bystritskaya tried out for a Kiev acting school and failed. Disappointed, she decided to study to become a teacher, but then tried out for acting school again and was accepted. From 1948-1953 she attended the Kiev Theatrical Institute.

In 1953 Elina Bystritskaya graduated from the institute and started working at the Russian Drama Theater in Vilnius (1953-1956), and then at the Moscow A.S. Pushkin Drama Theater (1956-1958).

From 1950 on, she acted in films, and quickly rose to fame.  In 1955, she appeared with the later director Sergei Bondarchuk in Neokonchennaya povest/Unfinished Story (Fridrikh Ermler, 1955) an archetypal Socialist Realist film. With her role as a doctor in this film, she became a star in the Soviet Union.

Bystritskaya was acclaimed as the Best Soviet actress of the year, and was a member of the Soviet delegation in Paris for the Week of Soviet Film there.

Elina Bystritskaya
Russian postcard by Izdanije Byuro Propogandy Sovietskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. 3975, 1962. Retail price: 8 kop.

Elina Bystritskaya
Russian postcard by Izdanije Byuro Propogandy Sovietskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. 4490, 1964. Retail price: 8 kop.

Elina Bystritskaya (1928-2019)
Small Russian collectors card.

The Russian equivalent of Gone with the Wind

In 1956, Elina Bystritskaya was handpicked by writer Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov to co-star as Aksinya opposite Pyotr Glebov in the trilogy Tikhiy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (Sergei Gerasimov, 1957-1958).

The three-part, 330 minutes lasting, epic film was released in 1957 (parts 1 and 2) and 1958 (part 3). It was based on Sholokhov's classic novel about a Cossack family living along the Don river, and portrays their experience of World War One, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.

Proud and red-blooded Don Cossack Grigori (Pyotr Glebov) comes home from the First World War and has a crush on dark-haired Aksinya, but she is already married - an unhappy marriage. Angered by the adulterous affair, Grigori's parents arrange a marriage with a village bride, but even after being married, Grigori cannot stop seeing Aksinya.

The tragedy is set against a background of great historic upheaval, including big battle scenes: the First World War, the Revolution and the Civil War, making it the Russian equivalent of Gone with the Wind.

In 1958, Bystritskaya turned to theatre work in the Maly Theatre in Moscow, and her screen appearances grew sporadic. Her later films include Vsyo ostayotsya lyudyam/Everything Remains for the People (Georgi Natanson, 1963), and Bravye parni (Nikolai Zaseyev, 1993).

In 1960, the USSR sent a delegation to meet with President Eisenhower in the White House. Bystritskaya, along with Sergei Bondarchuk and Nikolay Cherkasov, was a member of that delegation. Bystritskaya was sought after by American directors, who wanted to invite the Soviet star to perform in Hollywood films. But she was not told of those offers, and she continued to perform solely in the Soviet Union.

In 1978 she was named People's Artist of the Year. She also taught acting at the Shchepkin school (Shchepkin Theatre School), and at the Soviet State Theatrical Institute (GITIS). At the age of 80 the actress still worked in the Maly Theatre.

Bystritska was married to Nicolas Kuzminsky, a member of the ministry of Foreign Affairs. The couple never had children. After she left acting, Bystritskaya remained in the public eye due to her political activism and her support for President Putin.

In 2014, Bystritskaya publicly opposed the 'Euromaidan' movement which was sweeping across Ukraine. The actress called on Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to end the Euromaidan and arrest its participants. She and her fellow anti-Euromaidan protesters claimed that the Euromaidan movement was anti-Russian and called on Yanukovich to take action against the group’s leaders. That year, the Russian government annexed the Crimean Peninsula. The move sharply divided sentiments throughout the former Soviet Union. Bystritskaya was among those who supported the move.

On 26 April 2019, after a long illness, Elina Bystritskaya passed away in Moscow at the age of 91.

Elina Bystritskaya
Small Romanian collectors card.

Elina Bystritskaya in Tikhiy Don (1957)
Russian multi-view card. Photo: combination of publicity stills for Tikhiy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (Aleksandr Gerasimov, 1957).

Elina Bystritskaya
Russian postcard, no. A 506112. Price: 75 Kop. Released in an edition of 40,000 postcards.

Elina Bystritskaya in Tikhiy Don (1957)
Russian postcard. Photo: compilation with still from Tikhiy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (1957).

Love scenes from Tikhiy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (1957-1958). Source: Elfiya (YouTube).

Sources: Kate Prengel (heavy.),  Steve Shelokhonov (IMDb), Russia-IC, Wikipedia, and IMDb.


M. A. Leal said...

Beautiful cards, beautiful blog, beautiful idea! What an extroordinary concept! Thank you for sharing.

Paul van Yperen said...

Thank you, Marcia. You're welcome.

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