Aleksei Guerman (1938 – 2013) outside the Walter Reade Theater during the 1998 New York Film Festival. Photo: Godlis

Aleksei Guerman, a largely unsung master of Soviet cinema whose work was plagued by censorship and opposition, died yesterday at the age of 74.

Last Spring, Film Society of Lincoln Center paid tribute to Guerman's work with a retrospective of six of his films entitled War and Remembrance: The Films of Aleksei Guerman. Guerman had a history with the Film Society: his film My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1984) was selected for New Directors/New Films and Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998) screened at the New York Film Festival.

It was for Khrustalyov that Guerman was best known internationally. A French co-production, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it initially divided audiences but soon after became a cause célèbre. To this day it is the only of Guerman's films to receive much distribution outside of Russia. None of Guerman's films are available on DVD (or any home video format) in the English-speaking world.

Trial on the Road was banned by Soviet authorities for over 15 years.

Much of Guerman's obscurity can be attributed to his running afoul of the Soviet regime early in his career and the subsequent censorship his work suffered. On his first film, The Seventh Companion, he battled with his more established (and government-approved) co-director Grigori Aronov over authorship. His second film, the anti-war masterpiece Trial on the Road (1971), infuriated the Soviet establishment for what they saw as its anti-heroic depiction of WWII and it was banned for over 15 years. A similar fate befell his My Friend Ivan Lapshin over a decade later, though it did not stop it from becoming the first of Guerman's films to receive significant international recognition.

Guerman's son, also a filmmaker, wrote early this morning: “My father has lived his life in dignity. He never betrayed his ideals; never sold out; never bartered himself in exchange for vanity. I believe he left for a better world.”

Tragically, Guerman's passing comes just before the completion of his decades-in-the-making new film, an adaptation of Arkady and Boris Sturgatsky’s celebrated 1964 sci-fi novel Hard to Be a God. The film is said to be in post-production and could premiere later this year.

Guerman is survived by his son Aleksei and his wife Svetlana.