February 25 - March 10, 2005
Take No Prisoners: The Bold Vision of Kira Muratova is a presentation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Seagull Films. With
the assistance of Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. Special thanks go to the Ukrainian National Center of Alexander Dovzhenko.
One can cite very few filmmakers whose life could so easily be made into the basis for a remarkable motion picture, but in her seventy years Kira Muratova has experienced an extraordinary series of tragedies and triumphs, both personal and professional, while managing to still create one of the most essential bodies of film of the postwar Soviet/Russia cinema. Born in what is now the Republic of Moldova, Muratova in the early 60s fell in with the then-emerging generation of young filmmakers who were then transforming attempting to transform the Soviet cinema. Already with her first feature, BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, Muratova collided with the authorities: its fascinating portrait of a somewhat casual love triangle in ramshackle Soviet town proved perhaps too honest about what was really happening at that time. But it was with her second feature, LONG FAREWELLS, that Muratova truly passed into legend: the Soviet cultural thaw now over, the film was not only banned but Muratova was kicked out of the Filmmakers' Union. The lead actress actually hid a copy of the film under her bed, so fearful was she that they would destroy the negative. Eventually, the cultural winds shifted again, and with the glasnost (openness) spirit of the 80s, Muratova was "discovered" by a new generation. In 1987, for the first time her films were screened outside of the Soviet Union, and were instantly acclaimed as masterworks. Yet her works continued to rankle the powers that be: her THE AESTHENIC SYNDROME, made in 1989 and for many the most important film of the era, had the distinction of being the only Soviet film actually banned (for a few months) under Gorbachov. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Muratova has been able to work steadily, yet her vision of the world she sees around remains as penetrating, and as harsh, as ever. If she could be said to have a "spiritual ancestor" in the cinema, it would surely be Erich von Stroheim: like Stroheim, she coolly presents the everyday cruelty of which people are capable, yet without sensationalism nor moralizing. For Muratova, one must really see the world for what it is before one can decide how to act within it, and her films are often stories that detail the stripping away of her characters' illusions. We're proud to be able to present this first U.S. retrospective of Muratova's fascinating works, and hope to be able to welcome her back to the Walter Reade Theater with the premiere of her most recent film, THE TUNER.
BRIEF ENCOUNTERS / KOROTKIYE VSTRECHI
Kira Muratova, Soviet Union, 1967; 96m
For her astonishing debut feature, Kira Muratova cast herself as Valentina, the head of a regional housing office in a backwater Soviet-era town. For some time, Valentina has been carrying on an affair with Maxim, a free-spirited geologist who every now and then passes through town to or from prospecting missions. She hires a country girl, Nadya, as a housemaid, not knowing that she had a relationship with Maxim during one of his trips. The lives, memories and desires of these three characters are woven together through Muratova's subtle and intricate montage, showing us through flashbacks each woman's idealization of Maxim - played by Vladimir Vysotsky, hailed at the time as the "Russian Bob Dylan," performer of underground songs that became the anthems of the '60s generation. Immediately banned and kept on the shelf until glasnost, BRIEF ENCOUNTERS rankled the censors not only with its rather free-wheeling moral sensibility but even more for its tough look at everyday Soviet life. Muratova unflinchingly records the dismal housing conditions, lack of public facilities and growing desperation of the young workers who have abandoned the countryside to try their luck in the city.
Fri Feb 25: 2; Sun Feb 27: 1 & 8; Tue March 1: 4; Wed March 2: 5:15; Thurs March 3: 6:30
(Please note that the Feb 27 at 8pm is a new screening.)
LONG FAREWELLS / DOLGIYE PROVODI
Kira Muratova, Soviet Union, 1971; 95m
Yevgenia, no longer a young woman, struggles to make a living while trying to come to emotional terms with a restless teenage son who would prefer a home with an idealized father located far away in Siberia. Film scholar Ian Christie writes that "Muratova's second film, with a script by leading feminist Natalya Ryazantseva, must be counted as one of the major casualties of bureaucratic censorship during the 'era of stagnation'…. The film's almost unbearable tension is explored in a series of fluid, inventive sequences which bring a visual sophistication - with acting and music to match - quite exceptional in the often-heavy-handed social issues department of Soviet filmmaking. The apartment the mother and son share, with its territorial placing of furniture, the boy's use of a slide projector to create his own fantasy world, and the climactic workers' concert-party - all these show Miratova streets ahead of her male contemporaries." Like BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, LONG FAREWELLS was also banned by the censors, but this time their reaction was so strong that she was actually thrown out of the Filmmakers' Union and forced to seek other work.
Fri Feb 25: 4; Sun Feb 27: 3; Wed March 2: 9
THE TUNER / NASTROYSCHIK
Kira Muratova, Russia, 2004; 154m
We're proud to be able to present the U.S. premiere of the most recent film by Kira Muratova as part of this retrospective of her work. "A 'criminal melodrama' loosely based on the memoirs of a turn-of-the century Russian detective, THE TUNER is every bit as mesmerizing as any of Muratova's earlier films…. Andrey, an intelligent but penniless piano tuner and music student, is in love with the stunning and extravagant Lina. Andrey struggles valiantly to earn enough money to support her extravagant tastes, but his honest wage-slave jobs fall far short of satisfying Lina's frivolous desires. As the pressure to keep his muse in the manner to which she is accustomed begins to mount, Andrey turns to a life of crime, using his expert computer skills to exploit the good intentions of an aristocratic elderly woman…. In THE TUNER , outrageous, bizarre situations create a believable and fascinating study of the intricacies of human behavior and the film's in-depth character analyses amuse while never losing their poignancy or impact. An elegant, sophisticated and irresistible recital, this is breathtaking filmmaking from a true artist." - Dimitri Eipides, 2004 Toronto International Film Festival
Fri Feb 25: 6:15; Sat Feb 26: 8; Sun March 6: 7:20; Wed March 9: 3:20; Thurs March 10: 1 & 6:30
THE ASTHENIC SYNDROME / ASTENICHESKI SINDROM
Kira Muratova, Soviet Union, 1989; 153m
"My country had reached bankruptcy and there was nowhere else for it to go. Everything had to burst!" - Kira Muratova
Muratova's impressionistic portrait of the USSR reaching the end of its tether is for many the most powerful single achievement of the glasnost-era cinema. It was initially held up for distribution but then finally released and went on to win the Silver Bear at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival. The film begins with a story, shot in black and white, of a woman soon after the death of her husband. Yet what troubles her is not only his death; something larger, much darker and more powerful, is brewing inside her. Then one day it happens: it all comes out as she's riding a public bus. Her diatribe is astonishing - but then we discover that this has all been an introduction to the "real" film that Muratova wants to make. Mixing documentary, farce, melodrama, black comedy, social problem picture and psychological portrait-along with a few other elements - THE ASTHENIC SYNDROME is a unique, one-of-a-kind film, an epic yet deeply personal response to Soviet life and history.
Sat Feb 26: 2; Sun Feb 27: 5; Thurs March 3: 3:30; Sun March 6: 2
THREE STORIES / TRI ISTORII
Kira Muratova, Russia/Ukraine, 1997; 109m
Three Stories was Muratova's most successful release since THE ASTHENIC SYNDROME, and also her most controversial. It consists of three short films, linked by the common theme of murder. Their titles, Heating Basement No. 6, Ofelia and Death and the Maiden are tongue-in-cheek references to high-culture classics and signal Muratova's challenges both to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and to the didactic traditions of Russian literature and cinema. She gives us four cold-blooded murders: a throat-slitting, a strangulation, a drowning and a poisoning, aestheticizing the violence to remind the audience this is cinema, not reality. Muratova reserves moral judgment, telling her stories in the mode of black comedy. But Russian film critics were bewildered by Muratova's distanced authorial stance. The film's unpunished crimes may be the revenge of a filmmaker who, throughout her career, was censored and censured for far less grievous offenses. - Jane Taubman
"THREE STORIES represents a milestone in Muratova's career, a distillation of her entire oeuvre, representing the past, present and future." - Ruslan Janumyan, Senses of Cinema
Sat Feb 26: 5:45; Sat March 5: 6; Mon March 7: 3:45; Tue March 8: 1:30 & 9
GETTING TO KNOW THE BIG WIDE WORLD / POZNAVAYA BELYI SVET
Kira Muratova, 1978; 80m
Muratova's only film for the Lenfilm Studio, and also her self-proclaimed favorite among all her works, GETTING TO KNOW THE BIG WIDE WORLD was her first film after the ban prohibiting her from making films was lifted. She returns to what seems at first like familiar territory: the basic outline of the plot deals with a love triangle set largely among the bricks and concrete of a new construction site. Yet unlike the characters of her earlier BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, her trio here seems to be acting out of pure instinct. There's a voluptuous, sensual quality here, new to her work but that Muratova would continue to explore in later works such as PASSIONS. Again and again Muratova creates images that set off the power of the human spirit against the dreariness of everyday surroundings, such as when a group of just-married brides heads running out into a nearby field. Less pointedly critical perhaps than her previous works, the film nevertheless still irked the censors enough to temporarily shelve it; later, after the film's release, they cautioned Muratova to stop making films on contemporary subjects.
Tue March 1 at 2:15; Wed March 2: 3:30 & 7:15; Thurs March 3: 8:30; Sat March 5: 4:15
(Please note that the Mar 1 at 2:15pm is a new screening.)
PASSIONS / UVLECHENIYA
Kira Muratova, 1994, 112m; on Video
For many critics and fans of Muratova's work, PASSIONS is considered her most unusual film, the one which, at least on the surface, seems to have the least to do with her considerable body of work; paradoxically, it was one of her most popular films in Russia, even winning the Nika (Russia's Oscar equivalent) for the Best Film of 1994. Circus performer Violetta is introduced to Sasha, a jockey who has been hospitalized after a bad fall. She's attracted to him, and even more to his circle of friends, becoming fascinated with their devotion to horses and the lore of horseracing. She decides to go visit her new friends on a stud farm in Central Asia, ostensibly for the purpose of finding a partner for a new horse act she hopes to bring to the circus, but perhaps more honestly just to learn more about them and their world. Laced with a slightly surreal quality, PASSIONS is an effective and perceptive portrait of a kind of subculture, a world that seems to co-exist alongside everyday reality and to blend with it on occasion. Muratova has spoken about how much she enjoyed the chance to work extensively with animals - seemingly one of her own great passions - in the film.
Sat March 5: 2; Mon March 7: 1:30; Tue March 8: 3:45; Wed March 9: 8:45
CHEKHOV'S MOTIVES / CHEKHOVSKIYE MOTIVI
Kira Muratova, Ukraine/Russia, 2002, 120m; on DVD
Based on two works by Chekhov, the play Tatiana Repina and the short story Difficult People, CHEKHOV'S MOTIVES is composed of a fascinating diptych, two parts that share characters but on the surface little else. The film begins as a young man comes home to his family in small village; the reason for the visit is simply to borrow money, a request that sets off a bitter confrontation between father and son. The long-suffering wife and mother can do little but look on, every now and then interjecting her thoughts. Muratova powerfully captures the emotional rawness of this generational confrontation, exposing a wide array of issues and prejudices. Then, after the son runs out of the house, he walks into a wedding service taking place in the local Orthodox church. The groom is an overweight opera singer, and bride and her family grotesque examples of Russia's nouveaux riches. Yet the point here is less satire perhaps than Muratova's extraordinarily meticulous rendition of the entire ceremony, refusing the spectator a comfortable distance from which to judge these characters by bringing us right into the world of the film itself.
Sat March 5: 8:15; Sun March 6: 5
Wed March 9:1 & 6:20; Thurs March 10: 4
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