Thirty years ago, whistling happily, the hero of young Nikita Mikhalkov walked through Moscow streets wet with rain. It was a time of hope, joy was felt there. The Metro stations shone, shady lanes in the park attracted. The heroes of another G.Danelia’s firm film Nastya are also young, also fall in love, make dates in the Metro and jump on the day’s last bus or streetcar, but the intonation has become sad, and even the funniest moments are tinted with this sadness like maple leaves in autumn.
Telling the fairy tale of a Moscow girl who one fine day turns into the beauty from an advertising poster, Danelia deliberately puts aside the gloomy old song with which modern Russian “exposé” films are so rich. And in this film there are no fights in doorways, no scenes of undressing and no “bold” language of modern Russian cinema.
Danelia has cast charming A.Abdulov as the representative of new “democratic power”. Yet the film doesn’t fall into the expected wrathful pathos. Abdulov’s hero is petty in his nouveau riche manners, fussy, boastful, infinitely proud of his position as prefect and his participation in big-time politics, but he hasn’t lost his wonderful outbursts of soul.
The main success of the film is a duet of actresses playing the role of the 18-year-old stationery clerk. Before the magic change Nastya was a nice girl, unhampered by men’s attention, who tried to break out of the solitude, poverty and grayness of surrounding life with its mother-yardkeeper, small flat and a brightly made up shopgirl colleague who, month after month, suggested dubious entertainments with “cool guys”.
Nastya after the miracle is a beauty. With surprise she discovers how much appearances influence the life of a man… not, often, in the best way. Happening upon an art show in the subway where “men of culture” get very drunk and petty thieves pretend to be businessmen or weighty sponsors., Nastya feels herself a stranger in this festivity of pseudo-life.
Territory of Love
The Wind from the East…
Nikita Mikhalkov’s Urga reached Russia in the glow of a triumph at the Venice film festival. This picture about a possible harmony with nature, about the attempt of a common Russian driver to understand the world of Mongolian nomads, was received in Moscow with restraint, in spite of additional praise from Rome and Paris. There were a lot of things the film was reproached for: An attempt to run away abroad from the difficulties of Russia’s troubled time, for a tourist’s point of view on Asia and its people, for lacking the intuition of Bertolucci, and so on.
Urga it rather vulnerable to such reproaches, though they don’t seem to me well grounded. On the other hand, charges against the director’s and script’s prosaicness (as in a talky restaurant episode about the essence of the Russian nation) are fair. But all this is put aside when you see the wonderful landscapes of the imposing steppes, shot by V.Kaluta’s camera, and when you hear the thousands of sounds.
The simplicity and ease of the Mongolian and Chinese actors frees a comical story (how a Mongolian herdsman’s wife sent him into town for contraceptives, lest they be punished for violating a law controlling the birth rate) from any bad tone. The professional European actor usually has serious problems when working among Asiatic performers, but V.Gostukhin’s hero is well realized and convincing.
So, after a long interval, Nikita Mikhalkov decided to return to the free-breathing cinematograph.
And God Created Kiss
Director A.Karpikov, the pupil of Sergei Soloviev, is talented, flashy, and skillfully stylized. His The Fish in Love (1989) was an elegant fantasy on themes of the French New Wave, transformed in the atmosphere of Kazakh’s nighttime capital. Air Kiss continues a search in the same direction. The film can seem an affected melodrama about how a beautiful nurse prefers a lame gardener and a bandaged moto-racer to her respectable fiancé, the chief doctor of her hospital. Yet it is bright and ironical, with a hint of the aesthetics of Roger Vadim and the unforgettable image of Brigitte Bardot. In short, it’s postmodernism with a parodic layer that is not very intensified and does not disturb the emotional atmosphere at all. And to their credit, the young actors play sincerely, animatedly.
A doubtful spectator, after seeing Karpikov’s film, may ask: What about something Kazakhian? All the characters are played by European actors – where is national vividness? But who says Russians must make movies just about Russians, and Kazakhs about Kazakhs?
In You’re My Only One director D.Astrakhan succeeds in expressing the sensations of average Russian who for one wonderful day experience a “holiday of life” in which there is no place for nostalgic sentiments and hot arguments on spirituality, in which businessmen accompanied by suave friends drive about in Fords and Mercedes, lazily count wads of dollar notes, buy foreign delicacies and telephone New York right from their cars.
The life of 40-year-old Eugeny (A.Zbruev) resembles thousands of others. He has a modest occupation as engineer in some institution, a flat in a standard tall block, a wife (M.Neyolova) dreaming of escape from the closed circle of humiliating poverty, and a 16-year-old daughter for whom her ill-provisioned parents are a vivid demonstration of how one mustn’t live – the embodiment of her dread of destiny.
The film’s opening episodes create a familiar sketch of “common family of intellectual workers”: reproaches of Eugeny by wife and daughter, unmistakable hints that he is a typical failure, that all others managed to do better long ago, that he ought to join a number of fellow employees in a Russian-American joint venture, etc. And then, dreams… about trips over the ocean, Hawaiian beaches, Dior perfume and Cardin dresses…
Zbruev and Neyolova play this without pressing, without relishing the muddle of their characters’ lives. Even scenarist O.Danilov’s move into fantasy doesn’t make their performances less truthful. It turns out that the firm organizing the joint venture is headed by one of Eugeny’s former schoolmates whose younger sister Anna comes to Russia from USA. Anna has loved her “only one”, her “unique Uncle Eugeny” since childhood. Now she is ready to become his fairy godmother – or princess: buy him a smart suit, make him the representative of the American firm in Russia, drive him in a Mercedes along the Petersburg streets.
But pride prevents Eugeny from becoming dependent on his old friend, although pride is not the main problem in his affair with Anna: “I don’t love you, you see! Don’t love!” he cries to his benefactress in a riveting sequence. A lot of things are mixed in Zbruev’s expression. It would be good if he spoke so because he was deeply in love with his wife, but not at all… love has smoothly changed into habit. And if it’s possible to live without rapturous love with one woman, then why is it impossible with another? There is quite another thing, too – fatigue: hopeless awareness of the fact that his life is over, that he has no strength to restart everything from zero.
The bitterness of this feeling doesn’t disappear after either Eugeny’s return to his wife or a Felliniesque postscript with a birthday celebration in the snowy garden of his house. Having escaped the turn of fate, the heroes of You’re My Only One will, several days after the touching departure of Anna for America, again poison each other’s lives with mutual criticism… and dream about a separate room for their daughter.
The film reminded me of the best works of E.Riazanov (Beware of the Car, Irony of Fate) and G.Danelia (The Autumn Marathon). D.Astrakhan can tell a story emotionally, vividly and with psychological truth, in spite of its fantastic turns.