Jan 092010


Rodnya isn’t turning out to be very good. We’ve watched two thirds of it. It still has a half hour to redeem itself, but I don’t have my hopes up.

Nonna Mordukova had a lot of good roles in her career, but maybe she and her director didn’t have any idea how to play a country woman. She wouldn’t have to have been a stereotypical country woman like we see in other movies, but if the filmmakers were trying to introduce us to a new type of person none of us has ever met, whether in real life or in fiction, they needed to do something to help us get to know her.

In this scene she’s practically getting into a wrestling match with her daughter on their way home from the airport. Her daughter lit up a cigarette, to the surprise and objections of her mother. There are a zillion ways the daughter-mother interactions could have been played to help us understand how the two relate people to each other, but this film didn’t know how to do any of them. So it got slap-stick about it. And the same happened with other scenes.

Would any real people act like they do? Maybe in a country where men kiss each other in greeting we shouldn’t expect the same kind of physicality (or lack of it) that we would expect in America. But I suspect it’s not done this way because things are different in Russia. I’ll bet it’s just that the filmmakers just couldn’t figure out how these roles should work, so they kept us from getting to know the characters. They kept the characters at a distance from us, the viewers, through roughhousing, through loud and fast talk, and through camera angles that hid the faces and postures from us. Even a scene between Nonna’s character and her new male friend is shown from a rough distance, probably because the filmmakers don’t know how to bring out the subtle interactions between the characters.

It’s sort of like Garrison Keilor’s radio skits. Sometimes they have wonderful insights into characters and situations. But I suppose there are weeks when ideas don’t come to him and/or his writers, but still he has to go on the air. So he makes word pictures about some slapstick situation. It’s good for a few laughs, but it’s not what makes Keilor good.


I hope there is a good explanation for this scene with Nonna’s ex-husband and a couple of motorcycles at about the 1 hour point. The film by this point has done a lot that needs redemption, and this has just added to the burden.

Next we’ll have to watch the rest of the film to see if, after all these burdens it put on itself, it makes something out of itself anyway.

Dec 052009


Last week I tried washing our kitchen floor the way I’ve seen it done in Russian movies. It’s a way to do a good job of it, but it’s not that easy. I haven’t done enough of it to decide whether the method should help Russian women stay young and agile, or if it would age them prematurely.

Last fall I took a one-night-a-week class in conversational Russian at MSU. In a session when our teacher, a young woman from Ukraine, was teaching us how to describe some household activities, I asked her if Russian woman really washed floors the way it’s shown in the movies. She said they did. I never got around to blogging about it until now, though.

The scene above is from Proshu slova, which I just finished watching. Below is one from Vor. There is also a floor-washing scene in Komissar, in which Klavdia Vavilova, played by Nonna Mordukova, in the brief domestic phase in her life is down on the floor washing it with rags. But she is down on her knees, which is not quite the same thing. IMO it’s a lot easier that way. I would guess that the reason women would do it in in a squatting position is not because they’re trying to save their knees but because they’re trying to save their clothes. Also, they can move around a lot faster and get the job done more quickly, even though it requires more effort.


So now I have made a start on another category of scenes to collect: Floor washing scenes.

But I think the scene from Proshu Slova also fits another category that’s found in quite a few Russian movies. I’m not quite sure what to call it, but I’ll try to describe it in another post. There is a scene in Semnadcat’ mgnovenii vesny that I hope to find for the sake of comparison.

Jul 252008

I haven’t found any good obituaries in U.S. newspapers for Nonna Mordukova, who died earlier this month. The one in the Washington Post pointed out that she appeared in some government propaganda films: “Throughout a career that spanned half a century, Ms. Mordyukova appeared in dozens of films, including some textbook examples of Soviet propaganda.”

Well, everyone knows that there were a lot of Soviet propaganda films. But what was surprising to me when I started watching Russian movies was the parts that were subversive of Soviet propaganda, including three roles I can think of that were played by Nonna Mordyukova. If the Post wanted to talk about the political aspects of her work, it should have made that point. These are in three films that are readily available to U.S. viewers via Netflix.

In Vokzal dlya Dvoikh she played the part of an “uncle” who gave an entertaining little lecture on the virtues of private property and free enterprise. I’ve never seen anything like that in a popular U.S. film. In Brilliantovaya Ruka she played the part of a meddlesome building superintendent — in a way that provided social commentary which I suspect was not comforting to all the authorities. And the biggest role was of course as the Commissar in Komissar — a film that was suppressed for 20 years and which even under glasnost was released with extreme reluctance, seeing the light of day only thanks to outside pressure. In an interview, the director Alexandr Askoldov pointed out that even today it is rarely seen in Russia. Nonna Mordukova was one of the actors who interceded on his behalf at the time when the film was suppressed, when Askoldev was facing the possibility of a fate worse than that of being kicked out of the Party and of being prohibited from directing more films (which is what did happen to him).

It’s not that Mordyukova was a political dissident. As far as I know she wasn’t anything of the kind. She even seems to have preferred that Askoldov give in to the censors on the parts of the film that he refused to edit out. (You can see this on the Komissar DVD that contains “extra” material.) But she played a role in conflicts that we would do well to know about.

Here is a page about Mordyukova that gives better information about her work:

Komissar is an interesting case. Most web pages that talk about her work mention her big role in Komissar. But I have found Russian sites that tell about her career without mentioning that film. Same for Rolan Bykov, who played the male lead (see clip below). There are Russian web sites that tell all about his work, except for their silence about that movie.

And now I’ve learned that Komissar is still censored, even at Netflix. The clip below includes several minutes that were not on the one we got from Netflix. I am suspicious of why they were removed, because it seems they are important in leading up to the famous Holocaust scene that got Askoldov in such big trouble. Maybe the producers didn’t want to touch the Turkey-Armenia genocide issue, which is mentioned in this clip. But there are also parts that seem important in developing the character played by Mordyukova — in which she explains some of her views on war service and the political aspects of the wars.

25-Jul Slight edits to remove awarkdness, I hope