I suppose the Russians exported The House I Live In to prove that family life among the Soviets is no different from family life anywhere else in the world. They have, unfortunately, also proved that warm, sentimental tear-jerkers are mediocre in any language. The Sovexportfilm is not really dull, it's just typical.
Written by Peter Zharov, The House I Live In tells the story of three families who live in the same apartment house. The film begins in 1935 and follows their lives through the end of the war. People and movies being what they are, everybody's life intertwines. (This means, of course, young love for the children and occasional adultery for the adults.)
Just as everything is going along fine, the war interrupts the proceedings and the men go to the front. Tearful scenes ensue--although it must be admitted that these are fairly convincingly played. Some of the men return, some don't, and the film ends where it began, with the now mature younger son watching his niece begin life the same way he did. The "cycle" is complete.
However, as unsurprising as the plot is, much of it is redeemed by some very believable performances. Generally, "simple folk" appear on the screen woman devoted to her family and not bothered by the "greater things" taking place around her.
The cast plays with warmth and exuberance. They convincingly create the atmosphere of friendliness, love, and sorrow that is the film's best quality. It is interesting to note, too, that they are a most ordinary looking lot, as the most complex individuals. But here, the actors make an effort to keep their characterizations on the proletarian level called for in the script. One believes that Valentina Telegina (who looks, incidentally, like a peasant mother symbol) is an uncomplicated woman devoted to her family and not bothered by the "greater things" taking place around her.
Perhaps the main flaw in the film is the direction, the joint venture of Lev Kulijanov and Yakov Siegel. Although it is supposed to be a continuous story, the movie emerges as a series of different episodes--each one ending with a fade-out that lingers too long on a symbol. This effort at realistic symbolism fails because it is not consistent throughout the film. As soon as the viewer realizes that there will only be a symbol before every fade-out the imagery becomes obvious and uninteresting. The direction lacks subtlety and the camera work is fairly pedestrian.
If one judges from this film, proletarian life in Soviet Russia seems to be the same as working class life in the U.S. (At least in their movie version). There is none of the sordidness that is found in Italian and French realist movies. But simple creatures, who are happy or sad according to the external conditions of their lives aren't very extraordinary. This Russian attempt at a Paddy Chayevsky "slice of life" story is not very exciting.