By the time Anna Akhmatova was twenty-five, fate had granted her every conceivable gift—poetic talent, strength of character, beauty, and fame amidst a brilliant generation. She was then inundated with the tragedies of her century: the arrests and executions of her loved ones, starvation, hardships, wars and revolutions, the Soviet regime’s destruction of the culture itself and almost everyone who was part of it, persecution and civic death, isolation, betrayal. Yet Akhmatova emerged victorious, armed with mere conscience and words of poetry that were for many years too dangerous even to commit to paper, surviving only as memorized by a few close friends.

That victory is the core of the film. But A Film about Anna Akhmatova is not a bio pic. Rather, it is a live process of recreating a story akin to ancient tragedy. Before the viewer’s eyes it emerges from archival and modern footage, unique sound recordings of Akhmatova’s voice, her poems and photographs, and the many paintings and portraits of her, with the commentary of the poet Anatoly Naiman, who knew Akhmatova in her last years.

As he passionately dismisses or suggests the images that would best reflect the Crimea of her childhood in its antiquity, Petersburg and bohemian Paris of the 1910s, Akhmatova’s friendship with Amedeo Modigliani and the loss of two husbands to Soviet Terror, Akhmatova as an icon of her generation, and the woman he knew in her old age, Naiman listens to the same records they heard together and travels to the places she has left.