Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine: The Broken Filmography of Director Kira Muratova

In retrospect, one could almost see “The Big Wide World”, the third feature film by Ukrainian-born Kira Muratova in 1978, who was born in (today) Moldovan Soroca, as a peace offering. In the Soviet Union, the director suffered badly. Five copies of her debut “Short Encounters” (1967) were released in cinemas, the follow-up “Long Farewell” didn’t even make it there four years later. It was not published until the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was already on its last legs.

Muratova had no friends in the party. Her films were politically too individualistic and aesthetically too “strange” – influenced more by the Nouvelle Vague than by socialist realism. Or in party jargon: “too bourgeois”.

“Recognize the big wide world”, which Arsenal is showing in April as part of a retrospective, marked a first break in Kira Muratova’s career at the end of the 1970s, which party officials kept repeating, not least because of the malicious portrayal of Soviet society bumped his head. With her first color film, she planted a romantic-comic seedling, so to speak, in the cold concrete of socialist progress.

The construction site as a utopian place

Ljuba, Nikolaj and Mikhail are working on a large construction site where a tractor factory and a residential complex are to be built. In contrast to the ménage-à-trois of her debut, this time Muratova drew her characters lovingly – and the construction site as a utopian place where the project of socialism suddenly seemed tangible. Her handwriting remained unmistakable: jump cuts, sound/image asynchrony, impressionistic shots without narrative constraints. A poetry in the observations that had something tactile about it. The workers rhythmically slap the plaster on the walls of the building shell while they sing together; the work becomes a choreography, similar to the “kolkhoz musicals” of the 1960s.

The corrosiveness of her character drawings gave way to a comedic, whimsical tone, and for a moment Kira Muratova seemed reconciled with her country. In interviews, she has often referred to “Seeing the Big Wide World” as her favorite film. But just five years later, the bond was finally torn: the censorship authorities mutilated “Unter Grauen Steinen” so badly that it withdrew its name.

It was not until the end of the Soviet Union that Muratova received the long overdue recognition as an important director in European cinema between the French Agnès Varda and the Czech Věra Chytilová. The last film in Soviet cinema also marked the transition to the new era. “The Asthenic Syndrome” is considered the only film that was banned in the perestroika era; However, he found his way out of the country to Berlin, where he was awarded the Silver Bear in 1990.

The Asthenic Syndrome was a prophetic film that captured the apocalypse in Soviet society just before the giant construct fell apart. Today it is considered Muratova’s masterpiece and heralded the beginning of her most productive phase. As it turned out, not only was their glare reserved for socialism, but post-Soviet society also became the target of their merciless mockery. The black comedy “The Piano Tuner” (2004) with the great Renata Litvinowa as the manipulative ice princess leaves no good hair on her characters, everyone cheats everyone.

Muratova’s changeable career meant that she was perceived as either a Soviet, Russian or Ukrainian director. After graduating from the Moscow Film School VGIK, she lived with her husband and work partner Alexander Muratov in Odessa, where she died in 2018. The fact that she is now getting her first posthumous retrospective in Berlin, one year after the beginning of the Russian invasion, draws attention once again to her fractured filmography.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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