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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Filmmaker Bykov Dies Of Cancer At Age 68

Rolan Bykov, a well-known actor and film director whose tragic roles and thoughtful creations for children educated generations of Russians, died Tuesday morning of cancer. He was 68.

"I cannot believe it," said director Savva Kulish, who produced the sensational movie "Dead Season" in 1968, in which Bykov played one of the leads. "He was one of the pillars of Russian art. The life of our cinema and the life of Russian culture without Rolan will be a different life."

Tuesday evening television newscasts led with Bykov's death, before even discussion of Wednesday's national strike.

Born in Kiev in 1929, Bykov graduated from Moscow's Shchukin Theater Institute in 1951 and began a brilliant career in theater and cinema, in the course of which he played about 200 parts and directed more than a dozen definitive films for children and about children.

Some of his roles became classics of Soviet-era cinematography. In 1959, he played the role of Akaki Bashmachkin in "The Overcoat," a film directed by Alexei Batalov on the basis of Nikolai Gogol's short story.

The theme of "The Overcoat" f that of the literary "little man," who struggles to lead an honest life despite the blows of an inhuman environment f is a central thread in the Russian classical literary tradition. It also became central to the artistic work of Bykov.

In the early 1960s, Bykov embarked on what became the major cause of his life: He began to direct films for children. They were different from the traditional stone-faced epic Socialist Realist productions for children that had been shot in the Soviet Union before.

"He always made films with a degree of surrealism, which appealed to the mentality of children and sent them on a flight of fantasy," said writer Vladimir Zheleznikov, whose story became the basis for Bykov's revolutionary movie "Scarecrow." He characterized Bykov's children's films as "Abstract Realism."

While producing the "Scarecrow" f a bitter, chilling story about young cruelty in which a group of children ostracize and nearly crucify a classmate who is different from them f Bykov had to win over skeptical Soviet authorities, who at first attempted to shut down the production of a film that challenged the official rosy picture of Soviet children.

Zheleznikov said that only a petition to the omnipotent Yury Andropov won Bykov permission to go forward. After the film was completed in 1983, it took another three years for it to reach millions of glasnost-era viewers, among whom it created a sensation. In recent years, Bykov spent most of his time on public activism, running a foundation bearing his name that raised money to fund and produce children's films.

Bykov's film roles were marked at times with deep tragedy, at times by eccentric humor and a virtuoso use of his body. Among his greatest performances were his roles as the jester in Andrei Tarkovsky's 1970 classic "Andrei Rublyov," as the "unheroic" officer in Alexei German's 1971 "Checkpoints on the Roads" and as the simple Jew Yefim Mazhannik in Alexander Askoldov's 1967 film "The Commissar."

But despite his success and popularity, Bykov did not have time to play nearly as many important roles as he had desired or deserved, colleagues said. First he was too busy directing and producing, then the economic situation in the Russian film industry soured.