Sculptor, painter, cartoonist, illustrator, actor, theater and film director and animator, one of the brightest representatives of The Tbilisi modernism and later a prominent creator of the Stalinist period heroic propaganda films.
After the Sovietization, Mikhail Chiaureli actively got involved into the film industry initiated by the new system – first as director of the Georgian Film Industry Trust (1928), and then as Artistic Director of the formerTbilisi Film Industry Trust-turned-Tbilisi-Film-Studio. Chiaureli’s promotion was logical – the decree on monumental propaganda explicitly prioritized two areas of artistic creation: sculpture and cinema. Chiaureli was a professional in both fields. From the 1930s until Stalin’s death in 1953, Chiaurel filmed masterpieces of propaganda cinema.
He was the People’s Artist of Georgia and the USSR (1943, 1948), and the six-time Stalin Prize laureate.
In the history of Georgian and Soviet cinema, the name of Mikhail Chiaureli was mainly associated with the Soviet ideological cinema and the “great style” of the Stalinist period. Until 1953, Soviet critics particularly highlighted his following movies: Arsena (1937), Giorgi Saakadze (1943), The Oath (1946), which won the gold medal at the Venice Film Festival in the same year, The Fall of Berlin (1949). and Unforgettable 1919 (1952).
After the death of Stalin and the XX Congress of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, the new party leader, condemned the cult of personality, and so, Chiaureli was suspended temporarily from the big projects and was sent to Sverdlovsk for three years as director of the film studio.
In 1965, Chiaurel made the movie after the play of Avksenty Tsagareli Times Have Changed Now by which he created an immortal monument to Tbilisi as a free city and its Third Estate. Today it is rightfully considered a classic of Georgian cinema.
During the Soviet era, Mikhail Chiaureli’s connection with modernist circles was not discussed at all.
Chiaureli was born in 1894 in Tbilisi. He first graduated from the Tbilisi Craft School, then the Tbilisi School of Sculpture and Painting, where he studied drawing and sculpture under Yakob Nikoladze (1912).
Since 1915, he began working as an actor, director and artist in the theaters of Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi.
In 1917, he went to the historical southern regions of Georgia as part of an expedition organized by the historian Ekvtime Takaishvili where, along with Chiaureli, futurist Ilya Zdanevich, and the artists Lado Gudiashvili and Dmitry Shevardnadze were involved. They studied and explored the temples of Ishkhani, Khakhuli and Oshki and made copies from the frescoes.
Chiaureli spent the years 1922-1924 in Germany. He worked in different sculpture workshops, improving his craft. At the return to Georgia, and until 1926 he worked as a sculptor in Tbilisi. Together with Nikoladze, he was one of the first Georgians to sculpture Lenin.
In the 1920s, Mikhail Chiaurel was a director and actor at The Workers’ Theater and The Red Theatre. Together with David Dzneladze, he transformed the mobile cooperative theater into the musical comedy theater named after Vaso Abashidze, where he started working first as a director and then, Artistic Head.
Chiaureli used to say: “I had an indomitable character. I was fascinated with theater, painting, sculpture, music and singing, and I could not figure out which way to follow as a career. This situation continued until 1928. Then there came a moment when I clearly chose my path. And that was a path of filmmaking.”
His early films are modernist in style. In 1929 he directed the film Saba and in 1931, the film Khabarda, which is one of the most important examples of a pamphlet in the Soviet silent filmography.
Chiaureli called Saba (script by A. Aravzky and Sh. Alkhazashvili) “a mixture of Mayakovsky and Dostoevsky.” It is a hybrid in style – agitation on the one hand, is intertwined with stream-of-consciousness techniques. Particular editing method used in the film creates distinctive expressiveness. The scenes of the tavern are reminiscent of Firosmanashvili’s paintings.
During that period, Chiaureli advocated pictorialism in cinema. In the film Khabarda he made special stress on the expressive side of the film, working out the composition of each frame in detail, at the same time expanding cinematic boundaries: he used to derive techniques from related arts. As noted, particular scenes of the film are associated with Mayakovsky’s satire, and others with Daumier’s caricature and the grotesqueness of his drawings.
In 1934, Chiaureli made the first Georgian sound film, The Last Masquerade.
Since 1938 he shifted from the modernist cinema to the Stalinism-era-associated Big Films.
In 1946-1955 he was a director in Mosfilm Studio, and in 1955-1957, director of the Sverdlovsk Film Studio; as a teacher he taught at the acting school of the Tbilisi Film Studio, and in 1950-1960 at the Moscov Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography.
At the end of his life, he got interested in animation. He made animated films How Mice Buried a Cat, A Surgeon Rooster, A Flea and an Ant, A Smart Rabbit and others.
He died at the age of 81 in Tbilisi. He is buried in the Mtatsminda pantheon.
His wife was Veriko Anjapharidze, a famous theater and film actress and their daughter, Sophiko Chiaureli, also a prominent theatre and film actress.