Filmmaker in Focus: Kira Muratova
Kira Muratova, a critically acclaimed titan of Russian-language cinema, made poetic, eccentric, astonishing films which have still too rarely been seen internationally. Muratova’s brilliantly trenchant imagination spans across twenty-two works, produced between 1961–2012. BFMAF pays tribute to her vision and oeuvre, posthumously, with a retrospective curated by Elena Gorfinkel (King’s College London) and presented in collaboration with the Dovzhenko Centre (Ukraine’s national film archive).
Kira Muratova’s first solo feature is a beautifully unfolding love triangle: a roaming geologist, played by cult folk singer Vladimir Vysotsky, the USSR’s equivalent of Bob Dylan; his wife Valentina who can’t stand her work; and a woman who arrives at her doorstep, his lover, Nina Ruslanova in her first film role.
A woman is paid a surprise visit by her long-forgotten classmate, who needs her advice: should he choose a wife or a lover? An outrageously burlesque mise-en-scène is repeated many times over, each in a different setting and performed by new actors. While the viewer doesn’t immediately recognise this, the scenes are screen tests with various actors. Towards the finale, Muratova employs a trick: the black-and-white images are disrupted and the film continues in colour. In the screening room, the producer and a potential investor, a sugar magnate, discuss the material of the uncompleted film. The director has died and there is no money to finish the movie. Muratova asked the big stars of Russian cinema and stage (including Renata Litvinova, Oleg Tabakov and Alla Demidova) as well as the amateur actors from her previous films to collaborate on Eternal Homecoming, exploring the possibilities of aesthetic transformations between past and present.
Getting to Know the Big Wide World, the chef d’oeuvre of the young Muratova, transforms a conventional love triangle (two men, one woman, all construction workers) into a vividly elusive poem on the origin and inexplicability of love. Through ordinary ‘Soviet’ characters she reveals expressive individuals, transforming the industrial construction site into a tender scene of unspoken tragedies.
Love affairs, horse races and male duels unfold at an isolated hippodrome by the sea inhabited by excessive, eccentric characters who strut and pose, fanatically declaim and obsess about their own ‘enthusiasms’. The film’s extravagant monologues were written and performed by the charismatic Renata Litvinova, whose screen presence channels equal parts Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow and the loquacious self-possession of a Warholian superstar. Litvinova, a professional screenwriter was discovered by Muratova, immediately becoming a member of her on-screen ‘family’, as well as a cult diva of the new Russian cinema.
A distraught widow who has just buried her husband is about to destroy everything and everybody, but mainly herself. An exhausted man tries to find an escape from his daily chaos and routine in perpetual sleep. While their paths don’t really cross, the film implies they both suffer from the titular syndrome—a weakness, enervation, fatigue that is equally concrete and allegorical.
Yevgeniya, a divorced mother, is very devoted to her only son, Sasha. When she lets him vacation with his father, he comes back a changed person and tells her that he does not want to live with her anymore, and wishes to move to Novosibirsk. As a portrait of a woman unravelled, this film forms a diptych with Brief Encounters. Both are shot in achingly poetic black-and-white. Both are about the nature of romance, even if it’s a romance between mother and son, which Muratova proposes as a metaphor for any male-female relationship. Finally, both films are astonishing portraits of unconventional women, and the pain of yearning, impulsive, irrational loves.