By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Three women three stories.
Some Russian lady friends of mine suggested I review this film, which is a favorite of theirs and awarded the Oscar for best foreign film of 1980. The story deals with three women who room together at a boarding house and detailing their hopes, dreams, and personalities and then the second half examines them several years later and showing how much they have evolved.
The film has a definite European flair in that characters are well-rounded and believable. I found myself liking them right from the beginning and genuinely interested in their fates. Lyudmila (Irina Muravyova) is engaging and amusing in her attempts to snare a man with prestige and money. Katerina (Vera Alentova) is equally interesting in the other way. I liked seeing how she starts out as shy and naïve, but blossoms into a strong, successful, self-assured woman by the end. The film takes its time in telling the story, letting you get to know the characters and allowing the scenes and situations to gel without the need for any quick edits, or cuts. I also thought director Vladimir Menshov does an excellent job with the women’s aging, which is natural but impressive without any use of make-up. At first I thought the movie had been filmed over a several year period in order to make the aging look so realistic, but that was apparently not the case. In discussing this with my Russian friend she tells me that the women were already in their 30’s when this was filmed, but even if that was the case then making them look so youthful at the beginning is still a successful feat.
The film is not a completely dour drama and manages at times to have a nice light-hearted touch with good amounts of humor. Lyudmila’s schemes are delightful at the beginning, but I also enjoyed the old man who joins a singles social club and then complains that all the women in his age group are ‘old hags’ forcing the program director to offer him a spot in a younger age group of women between 35 and 50 and he still complains that he would like them ‘even younger than that’, which only goes to prove that there’s always ‘dirty old men’ in every culture no matter where you go.
If you are expecting the film to deal with the oppressive aspects of the communist regime you won’t find it here. Most foreign films, especially those that won awards at the time, usually had this as their running theme, but here it doesn’t even touch on it. Yet I was still able to find traces of it including a scene near the beginning where a couple on a city sidewalk is told by an official that they are showing too much affection. There is another segment where Katia is being interviewed at her job in a factory by a news program. The interviewer exclaims that because Katia has shown signs of being creative that the task of a machine fitter is a ‘perfect’ job for her, which I found funny. She then asks Katia if she will be going to college, so she can get a degree and come right back to the same dreary factory and work as an engineer. I found this to be funny also, but my Russian friend tells me that the title of engineer in her country at the time was a highly regarded position that paid well, even though in America the idea of going to college is so that one can get a good education and not have to work in a factory at any level.
Another part of the film that may confuse American audiences is when Katia finds that she has become pregnant by a man that she is not married to. When she tells him the news he refuses to pay any support and she does not take him to court in order to force him. My friend explained to me that in Russia the single woman will typical not demand support from the man as this is apparently a source of ‘pride’ in their culture although many women here will find that difficult to relate too.
On the technical end the film looks like it was done on a miniscule budget. The color is faded and the images are fuzzy. Everything is filmed in places that show little that is interesting aesthetically. I thought with the word ‘Moscow’ in the title that there should have been more images of the city and scenes done at certain exotic locales to allow the viewer to get familiar with the region. There is a bit too much music. Although it is not in every scene the majority of the film has music going on underneath the conversations almost like a radio playing in the background and in my opinion it gets distracting.
My biggest complaint is that the second half spends too much time focusing on Katia and no one else. The synopsis for the film from several different sources describes this as a story about THREE women, but the by the end it is really only about one. I was disappointed as I found Lyudmila fun and I wanted to see more of her and the third woman, Antonina, is barely shown at all to the point that we get to know little about her. Katia’s late-blooming romance goes on too long and seems a bit forced. Having her old boyfriend suddenly reappear and try to get back into her life is strained and the fact that he initially didn’t recognize her seemed hard to believe.
The story and scenarios are not original and have to varying degrees been done many times before. Unlike other Russian classics that I’ve liked including Solaris and Stalker this film lacks anything profound and comes off as a typical drama that is passable and entertaining, but not great.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: February 10, 1980
Runtime: 2Hours 22Minutes
Rated NR (Not Rated)
Director: Vladimir Menshov
Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2)