The DVD of Abram Room's 1927 Soviet silent classic Bed And Sofa includes Vsevolod Pudovkin's comic 1925 short Chess Fever, which runs through a set of well-timed gags about a nation in a state of persistent distraction as its citizens stare obsessively at miniature chessboards. Chess Fever is a light, funny piece, but its central storyabout a woman left waiting while her fiancé ponders his movesechoes Bed And Sofa in its depiction of a man going about his business without considering his mate.
In the latter film, the woman is Lyudmila Semyonova, a Moscow housewife whose frustration with her piggish construction-worker husband (Nikolai Batalov) comes to a head when he invites old army buddy Vladimir Fogel to share their cramped basement apartment. A gesture of kindness from Fogel lures Semyonova into sexual indiscretion, but the romance dies when she realizes that now she has to clean up after two lunkheads instead of one. As for the lunkheads, they jostle for the privileges of husbandhood: sharing Semyonova's bed, sitting in the best rocker, getting the first cup of hot tea, and so on.
In his astute DVD commentary track, Jay Leyda calls Bed And Sofa a "coming to Moscow" film: one of many modernist social dramas in early Soviet cinema. Like its fellows, the movie can be read as a specific critique of the way ingrained prejudices threaten the enlightened communist state, or as a generalized comment on how the new social order has sent everyone scrambling.
For those who couldn't care less about 80-year-old cinematic op-ed pieces, Bed And Sofa offers the common treats of the Russian silents, particularly the inventively expressionist montage linking naturalistic scenes of people building, cleaning, or playing with their cats. The competition between early Soviet filmmakers and their ideological commitments spawned a string of movies focused on people, but dripping with style. Room merges the two modes in Bed And Sofa, returning repeatedly to half-admiring, half-critical, always beautifully composed shots of citizens at work and machines grinding away.