When a Distant Friend Sings. The story of love and friendship between Yves Montand and City of Moscow

July 27

In 1956, a star couple arrived in Moscow - actor and singer Yves Montand and actress Simone Signoret. They became the first world-famous celebrities from a capitalist country to visit the USSR since 1939. Later, in 1963, the couple visited Moscow again, among many other foreigners who arrived at the Moscow International Film Festival. About both visits and their prerequisites - in the material of mos.ru.

A distant friend

One of the most popular Soviet songs of the second half of the 1950s was the song When a Distant Friend Sings sung by Mark Bernes. Written at the request of the singer by the poet Yakov Khelemsky and the composer Boris Mokrousov, it was often played in the apartments of Soviet people: it was broadcast on the radio, in addition, the composition was released as a separate record.

The thoughtful voice of Montand

Sings on a short wave,

And branches of Paris chestnuts

Look at me through the window.

By the time Yves Montand appeared in Moscow in the flesh, and not just as a voice on the radio, he really was, if not a friend, then a good acquaintance. The singer gave many small and large concerts, equally kind and attentive to factory workers, students, and visitors to large concert halls. All the concerts and the artist's visits in Moscow were filmed. Later, Sergey Yutkevich created a documentary-journalistic film ‘Yves Montand sings’ with these shoots.

A shoot from 'Yves Montand sings'. Director M. Slutsky. 1957.

The film begins with a concert at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The program was clearly verified: songs about a poor worker who is already happy because he can wander along the boulevards on his day off, about love for a simple girl, about funny arrogant jazz fans (the off-camera announcer explained: "Hipsters, in our way"). In his spare time between concerts, he and Madame Signoret visited the Bolshoi Theater, walked around the Kremlin, examined the treasures of the Faceted Chamber and sincerely exclaimed Formidable!

Among the places that the couple visited was the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Montand gave one of the concerts in the main building of the Moscow State University. The first song was La Marie Vison. About a careless girl named Marie, who exchanged real happiness for a mink fur coat, the off-camera announcer explains and asks the audience not to make such mistakes. The question of financial well-being really stood before the young audience of Montand. This is evidenced by a parody of a song by Khelemsky and Mokrousov, which instantly appeared among Moscow students. They were happy to sing to a well-known tune:

The thoughtful voice of Montand

Sings on a short wave,

But I'm not thrilled, the scholarship is not enough,

And it makes me sad.

When sings

In Moscow, Montand, the student's pocket is being emptied,

And the cost of food is reduced,

When sings

In Moscow, Montand.

The original song is also heard in the film-however, it is sung not by Mark Bernes, but by a male choir of students from one of the Moscow vocational schools. The students sang a song in Russian and French. The meeting, to which the young singers invited Yves Montand long before his arrival in the USSR, was held at the Central House of Culture of Labor Reserves on Derbenevskaya Street (today the All-Russian Center for Artistic Creativity and Humanitarian Technologies is located in the former building of the Central House of Culture). The guest paid back in his own coin: although he did not plan to sing that evening, he still sang one of his signature songs Un gamin de Paris ("The Parisian boy").

The Singer of Paris

Yves Montand was known in the USSR even before the news that he was coming spread all over the country. In 1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot's thriller Wages of Fear (1953) was released in the Soviet Union, in which he played the main role - a reckless cab-driver Mario, who lived in a backwater town in Guatemala. He undertakes to transport cans with high-explosive nitroglycerin in a truck after an oil well disaster - a lot of money is at stake. Soviet viewers watched with excitement as the bumpy road leads the hero of Montand to the inevitable tragic ending: he is not a completely lost man, he just got lost in the capitalist wilds.

Another movie with Montand, an earlier one, The Idol by Alexander Esway (1947), was released in the USSR in 1956, shortly before Montand’s arrival. The movie did not leave a significant mark in the history of world cinema, but thanks to it, the audience was able to appreciate the actor's comedic talent and his athletic form. In Idol movie he played a boxer. For this role he specially learned to box and even, as the legend says, got one real knockout.

It all started, however, not with movies, but with songs. As a singer and a wonderful person, Montand was the first in the country to be discovered by Sergey Obraztsov, the head of the State Puppet Theater. In 1953, he visited Paris with a group of Soviet actors, where he met his French colleagues and attended a concert of Yves Montand. Shortly after returning to Moscow, Obraztsov's author's program The Singer of Paris was broadcast, consisting of a story about the journey undertaken, smoothly turning into a narrative about Montana. The program included songs of the actor, each of which was accompanied by a translation and brief explanations, and a biography of the singer with an emphasis on his proletarian origin.

Yves Montand was the third child in a simple Italian family of Giuseppe and Josephine Livi (he took the pseudonym Montand later). His father was a convinced communist. In his youth, he helped his sister in a barber shop, worked in a dock and sang all the time - at work, before a session in cinemas, in music halls. One day, Montana was noticed by the French chanson diva Edith Piaf and helped him to advance on the variety art. They sang together until 1946. At the same time, he began to act in films a little. In 1949, Montand met his main love, the actress Simone Signoret. They quickly married and almost never separated until her death in 1985. Signoret accompanied her husband on almost all trips.

Performance of the French singer-chansonnier, actor Yves Montand at the Likhachyov Moscow Automobile Plant during a visit to the USSR.  Photo by E. Semenov. December 1956. Moscow Main Archive

Festival guests

In 1963, Montand and Signoret came to Moscow again. They became guests at the Moscow International Film Festival. This time, as Yves Montand joked in one of the TV shows, his wife came to work, and he only accompanied her and hoped to find time for walks in summer Moscow. Simone Signoret presented to the public The Day and the Hour movie by René Clément, in which she played the main role. The anti-fascist drama, which is set in occupied France, was not included in the main contest and was shown as part of a special program.

French singer-chansonnier, actor Yves Montand, who arrived at the III Moscow International Film Festival, during an on-stage appearance. Photo by B. Trepetov. July 7-21, 1963. Moscow Main Archive

Another movie, in which the couple starred together, was also shown out of the contest. Beautiful May, a documentary film by Chris Marker dedicated to the first peaceful month after the end of the Algerian War of Independence (1955-1962). In this film, the director collected interviews with 55 residents of Paris, who shared their thoughts about politics, living standards and happiness. Among those interviewed by the Marker were Montand and Signore.

French singer-chansonnier, actor Yves Montand (right), who arrived at the III Moscow International Film Festival, during an on-stage appearance. Photo by B. Trepetov. July 7-21, 1963. Moscow Main Archive

This film became another thread that bound Montand with the Soviet Union. The Beautiful Month of May begins and ends with a song sung by him. The song Joli mai (Beautiful May, or Handsome May) sounds in French, but it can be assumed that all the viewers who came to see the picture stopped their hearts. Foreign words were simply and easily put to the familiar motif of Lonely Harmony, one of the most beloved songs of the post-war period. Shortly after May 9, 1945, this melody was written by the composer Boris Mokrousov - the author of the song Distant Friend, dedicated to Montand.

The French version of Lonely Harmony, which, however, has almost nothing in common with its text, was written by the poet Francis Lemarque. He also made a literary translation of A Distant Friend for Montand - the song Ami lointain was often sung by him in France.

Source: mos.ru

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