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Kino on Video presents
"I just don't believe you can act like something you're not."
DVD ReviewThe Russian Cinema Council is releasing a number of Soviet films on DVD, which have previously been available solely through St. Petersberg Press. Kino has licensed some of these titles, including Vladimir Menshov's 1979 romantic comedy and winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar®, Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (aka Moscow Distrusts Tears aka Moskva slezam ne verit). While billed as a comedy, I think North Americans will miss a lot of the humor due to the vast cultural differences between the former Soviet Union and our western worldóthat's not to say it isn't funny, just that the depth of the humor may not be appreciated as much. The two part story follows the lives of three girls trying to find happiness in Moscow.
It is the late 1950s. Lyudmilla (Irina Muravyova), Katerina (Vera Alentova) and Antonina (Raisa Ryazanova) are young factory workers who live together in a dormitory in Moscow. All are provincials, having only arrived in the capital a short while ago. Here, they believe they will find the happiness only available to Muscovites, in a land of opportunity far from the regimented life in the country, where progress in life follows age old patterns and traditions. In Moscow it is the lottery, with the chance to strike it rich waiting around every corner. However, fate often needs a helping hand, and to this end Lyudimilla is looking for a head start.
Since the road to a better life begins with securing the right man, a few revisions to ones true social standing are in order to attract worthy candidates. Her first bit of deception is explaining the headmistresses' "dormitory" greeting on the phone as the ramblings of a mother stressed by out of town guests, for surely a woman of stature would be living in an apartment. Night life in Moscow is filled with excitement, including watching stars stream by at the opening of a film festival. Lyudimilla can taste the pathway to success, but it does mean unburdening herself from the appearance of a lowly factory worker.
Antonina has a suitor, Nikolai (Boris Smorchkov), but is hesitant to make the trip to the country to meet his parents after such a short relationship, so drags Katerina and Lyudimilla along for the ride. The meeting is successful, but deepens Lyudimilla's distaste for provincial life. When Katerina is offered the chance to house sit for her aunt in a fancy apartment building, she sees an opportunity for the two of them to make great progress, by posing as the daughters of a professor, and passing themselves off as university students. Katarina is uncomfortable with the idea, believing a relationship should not be built on lies, but Lyudimilla figures the truth can be told after they have gotten married and had a child, by which time he would be too used to her to toss her out. They stage an elaborate dinner party, and invite a number of eligible men, and we witness the outcome of their aspirations, and the effects of their deception. By the end of disc one the world is a different place for all of them.
The film then moves forward twenty years, and we see what has become of these young women as they find themselves in the late 1970s. Despite their vastly different outlooks and situations in life, their devotion to each other bonds them over the years into a trio of inseparable lives. Vera Alentova gives a superb debut performance as Katerina (aka Katya), equally excelling as the young woman in search of her dreams, and the accomplished woman she becomes. Irina Muravyova (Lyudmila) steals the first half of the film with her cocky, conniving character full of fun and ambition. Raisa Ryazanova (Antonina) has much less prominence throughout, but has her moments as well, as the wide-eyed country girl being presented to her future husband's parents for the first time.
The men in this film are mostly relegated to characters that we will find offensive in a society where women have much more social presence. That is not to say that the women here don't have individual character, but there is a very real male presence required for any of them to have true merit. The idea of secrets in the relationships these women have with men plays such an important part in the film.
Some of the things I found quite interesting about Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears were the depictions of a lifestyle that does not mesh with my perception of life in Russia as an outsider. There were no bread lines, no emphasis on povertyóin fact there was always food in abundance, though there was some suggestion that certain luxuries were limited. We are not without a bit of state propaganda either, as we are told in one scene, for instance, that the Soviet Union has the best medical system in the world. There was a fair bit of criticism of government policy, though its intensity was limited. It is also interesting to see how women's individuality is handled, and how their success is truly measured. By the end of the film the accomplishments seen throughout take on a new meaning. It is tough to say how accurate a reflection this is on life during the 1950s and 1970s in Russia, but it doesn't appear as bad as we have been led to believe in the West, though it still is far from what we would consider high living. As a look at a different culture and its value systems, this was somewhat of an eye opener, darkly humorous at times, though as mentioned earlier, for those not familiar with Russian society during the time the story is set, much will be over our heads.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 image is fairly dark at times, and lacks the clarity and detail of most modern film transfers. Colors are somewhat drab and not as saturated as most North American productions, though I suspect a lot of this is due to the cinematography, and some having to do with aging stock. The film has a very earthy look to it, consistent with many European films from the same time frame. A good, but not exceptional presentation.
I am also not certain that the film is presented in its correct aspect ratio, as shots during the interview with composer Sergey Nikitin indicate a wider image than that presented here. That said, Ruscico has been delivering anamorphic widescreen transfers of its other catalogue, so it would seem odd to crop this one for no reason.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Three 5.1 audio mixes are available: original Russian, and English and French dubs. There is not a lot of use of the surround field other than ambient noise, though there are a few moments when they are put into effect. Watching in the original language there was some distortion and edginess present at times, but overal things were well presented. I would advise avoiding the English dub, which does a real disservice to the actors with a completely rewritten script and mediocre voice performances.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Russian, French, Spanish, Portugese, Japanese Swedish, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese
Cast and Crew Filmographies
There are six present day on-camera interviews, three per disc, the first is with writer Valentin Chernykh running 24m:23s. He discusses the development of the screenplay, the choice of director, and his role in bringing the film to screen. The second is with composer Sergey Nikitin (10m:23s), whose insights into the creation of the music are quite illuminating. While composing the score Nikitin was also pursuing scientific study in university, something few western composers would attempt during a film production. In addition, not only do we get to hear him perform some of the variations of the main theme in Russian, but he also performs the French and English translations as well. Actress Raisa Ryazanova (Antonina) is up next, and her reflections on her part are quite amusing, especially her relief that her character is actually married in the film. This 14m:31s interview is a bit disorienting as she refers to the characters by different names than appear in the subtitled version, hers being Tosya, and her companions Koiya and Lyuda.
Disc two adds interviews with director Vladimir Menshov (08m:32s) and Vera Aletova (3m:08s) who are shot together, though speak separately in a restaurant setting. Menshov tells how it felt to see the public reaction to the film (interestingly referred to as "his" instead of "our"), while Aletova recounts her nervousness on her first motion picture shoot. Irina Maravyova rounds out this segment, with enthusiastic recollections of the production. It is interesting to see that her real life persona is not that different from her portrayal of Lyudmila, especially the childlike glow in her eyes as she talks about her part (06m:04s). Throughout these interviews are excerpts from the film, subtitled throughout as Moscow Distrusts Tears. We also see a significant difference in the subtitle wording for these scenes, which adds a different perspective to their meaning.
Two Russian shorts are included in the set. Both are big on propaganda, eschewing the achievements of the Soviet people. Disc one features Chronicle, a 06m:56s celebration of the 39th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, showing preparations being made by populace for the big day on November 7, 1956. School children, artists, military members and ordinary citizens are seen looking forward to this time of celebration. Disc two features a 02m:53s piece highlighting Soviet achievements during the 20th century, including Sputnik, the first trolley bus in Moscow and hosting the Olympic Games.
We get an extensive set of filmographies for the cast and crew. Disc one features director Vladimir Menshov, screenwriter Valentin Chernykh, cameraman Igor Slabnevich, composer Sergey Nikitin, production designer Said Menyalschikov and actor Oleg Tabakov. Disc two continues with actresses Vera Alentova, Irina Muravyova, Raissa Ryazanova, and Natalya Vavilova, along with actors Alexei Batalov, Alexander Fatyushin and Boris Smorchkov.
Each disc also houses a collection of eight production photographs in its still gallery, presented as thumbnails, which can be enlarged individually from the menu, though can't be scrolled through.
The negatives of this two disc set are the unskippable copyright warnings that start each disc, in three languages, and the fact that you must go through the language selections before resuming the film, as neither the audio tracks or subtitles are switchable on the fly.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsMoscow Does Not Believe In Tears is a wonderful film, full of fun, while balancing many serious aspects of life. From a western perspective, the characters and their motivations may seem a little odd, but having been through the interviews that supplement the feature, I can see that viewing this again will open up new insights into where these characters are coming from. The two part nature of the picture opens up the possibility to see where our heroines end up in life, which adds to the rewards offered here. The resolution may seem a bit sour to westerners, but it is a worthy viewing experience nonetheless, and certainly a welcome contrast to some of the other Russian cinema I've seen.
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