Istoria Asi Kliachinoi Kotoraia Lubila da Nie Vyshla Zamuzh
ISTORIA ASI KLIACHINOI KOTORAIA LUBILA DA NIE VYSHLA ZAMUZH
(The Story of Asia Kliachina Who Loved but Didn't Get Married; Asya's Happiness)
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Production: Mosfilm; black and white; running time: 99 minutes; length: 2713 meters. Finished December 1966; received censorship permit for distribution, March 1967; restored and released, 1987.
Screenplay: Yuri Klepikov; photography: Georgy Rerberg; art director: Michael Romadin; music: Viacheslav Ovchinnikov; sound: Raisa Margacheva.
Cast: Iia Savvina (Asia); Aleksander Surin (Stepan); Liubov Sokolova (Maria); Gennadii Jegorychev, Michail Krylov, Nickolai Nazarov, Ludmila Zaiceva, Ivan Petrov, Boris Parfenov, and others.
Award: FIPRESSI Award—Honorable Mention, Berlin International Film Festival, 1988.
Konchalovsky, Andrei, Parabola zamysla (Parabola of Concept), Moscow, 1977.
Zorkaya, Neya, The Illustrated History of Soviet Cinema, New York, 1989.
Fomin, Valery, Polka (Shelf), Moscow, 1992.
"Istoria Asi Kliachinoi," in Variety Film Reviews, Vol. 15, New York, 1983.
Zorkaya, Neya, "Ne stoit selo bez pravednicy," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 1, 1989.
Canby, Vincent, "Fable of Life on Collective Farm," in New York Times Film Reviews, 1987–1988, New York, 1990.
* * *
Istoria Asi Kliachinoi kotoraia lubila da nie vyshla zamuzh (The Story of Asia Kliachina Who Loved but Didn't Get Married) has a long and troubled history. Production was completed in late 1966 and the film was approved by Soviet censors for release in March of 1967, but then, after numerous revisions, changes, and edits, it never was released. Movie fans had to wait twenty years, until 1987, for their first opportunity to view the film.
Even the name of the film was changed numerous times: At first, it was to be called Istoria Asi Khromonozhki (Asia, the Lame One). Then it was renamed The Story of Asia Kliachina, Who Loved, but Didn't Get Married because She Was Too Proud. After a number of revisions, the film was given the more optimistic title Asia's Happiness. When it was finally released in 1987 it bore the title The Story of Asia Kliachina, Who Loved, but Didn't Get Married. Yuri Klepikov's screenplay was entitled "The Year of the Tranquil Sun." During the discussion phase of the script by the Committee on Cinematography (the organization which exercised total control over the movie industry in the Soviet Union), the disorder of the protagonists' lives, the crudeness of their speech, and the stark realism of many of the scenes in the movie were called into question. In preparing the director's script, Andrei Konchalovsky (also known as Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky) was compelled to make a series of corrections, change some scenes, and eliminate others.
Filming began in the summer of 1966. The entire film was shot on location in the village of Bezvodnoe in the Gorky region. It was shot using multiple cameras, almost without retakes, since the majority of the "actors" were non-professionals—they were real collective farm workers from the Gorky and Voronezh regions. There were only three professional actors in the film: Iia Savvina, Liubov Sokolov, and Alexander Surin. By December, the film's editing had been completed and it was shown to filmmakers.
The film astounded the professionals. It seemed at the time that the documentary style of filming and the surprisingly truthful, forthright depiction of the lives of the people, heretofore unseen in Soviet cinema, would open brand new paths for Russian filmmakers. This film, from a creative standpoint, further developed the traditions of Italian neorealism, the achievements of the "thaw" period (the 1960s), and the successes of Russian "village" prose (Rasputin, Belov, Abramov, Shukshin).
We must also remember that at this same time the tragic story of the banning of Andrei Tarkovsky's film Andrei Rublev, one of the screenwriters of which had been Andrei Konchalovsky, was being played out. But while Tarkovsky refused to give in to the demands of the authorities and was able to defend his prized work, Konchalovsky agreed to make extensive edits and drastic changes. As a result, Rublev was finally released, while Asia had to wait twenty years to be seen. This is understandable: Tarkovsky's historical fresco, from an ideological standpoint, was far less dangerous in the eyes of the Soviet authorities than the dismal depiction of contemporary life in the Russian villages.
Among the many criticisms of the film were its pessimism, the poverty of collective farm life, the disorderly lives of its heroes, the crassness of their language, drunkenness, and the naturalism of many of its scenes (including the rape scene, the scene of Asia's attempted suicide, and the childbirth scene.) And although the film was officially passed by the censors (#2047/67 on March 1, 1967), it was never released for viewing. The campaign mounted against the film included not only the Party leader of the Gorky region, but also the chairman of the KGB. The director submitted "corrected" versions of the film three times and each time more and more scenes were cut, dialogue was rewritten, songs were added, etc. For example, the director changed the reason for old man Tikhomir's eight-year absence from the village (he had been in a concentration camp), and shortened the childbirth scene and the scene of the attempted rape, among other things. The final version of the film (running approximately 90 minutes) was considerably different from the original version, but even it did not suit the Party leadership.
At the center of the film is the lame collective farm cook Asia. As played by Iia Savvina, Asia is a truly Russian character: kind, hardworking, loving, lonely, but proud. Although she is the target of endless derision from her fellow villagers (she is, after all, a cripple), Asia is optimistic and is certain of what she wants out of life. She lives in a dark hut with her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and niece. There are no men in the house: a typical situation in Russia as the result of war. She lives according to her conscience and for love. She is in love with a shallow, stupid guy named Stepan who treats her contemptibly and has no intention of ever marrying her. A man named Chirkunov arrives from the city and offers Asia his hand in marriage and a comfortable life in a city apartment with indoor plumbing. But Asia does not love him and turns her suitor down. In desperation, Chirkunov tries to rape the pregnant Asia. The birth of her child (which in the first version of the film is a very intense and naturalistic scene) transforms Asia. From a slave to Stepan, she becomes a proud, independent woman and mother: she now has a child, a purpose in life. The talented acting of Iia Savvina made her indistinguishable from the non-professionals in the film.
In addition to the main story line of Asia's life, the film also contains a number of mass scenes (collecting the harvest, the making of the first bread, seeing a gypsy off to the army, and others), and also three dramatic monologues about life filmed in cinema verite style with a practically still camera, and total naturalness, simplicity, and sincerity on the part of the storyteller. The first story is told by a crippled war veteran, the second by the hunch-backed chairman of a collective farm, and the third by the old man, Tikhomir, who spent eight years in a Stalinist labor camp. These people lived through very hard times, but had not lost their dignity and optimism. Here, contemporary life was closely intertwined with the themes of war, Stalinist repressions, death, and love.
Official Soviet songs are played, but no one listens to them. Yet when the women begin singing a folk song, everyone enthusiastically joins in. The film's rich soundtrack includes the news being constantly broadcast on the radio, the roar of jet fighters flying overhead, shooting exercises, and tanks rolling by.
In Parabola of Concept, Konchalovsky reveals some of the principles that guided his work on this film. At its core was the use of improvisation. Other integral components were black-and-white images; the use of non-professional actors; the use of two or three cameras at once to shoot the film; the simultaneous recording of the sound; the filming of entire episodes without any cutaway shots and subsequent montage; and the predominance of wide angles, rather than close-ups. The entire film was shot in natural interiors or on location.
All of these factors "created the feeling of authenticity, spontaneity, the sense of getting a glimpse of a true slice of life" that the director sought to achieve. The revisions which Konchalovsky was forced to make were undoubtedly a detriment to the film. Elements were introduced that were typical of Soviet propaganda cinematography at the time (the scene of the first bread, the optimistic Soviet songs, the soldiers who help get Asia to the hospital where she gave birth, and others). As a result of the edits, it became difficult to understand what was going on in the suicide scene and old man Tikhomir's story about the Stalinist camps was abridged to the bare minimum.
In 1987, the decision was made to restore the original version of the film and release it for viewing. However, the director was unable to completely reconstruct the original version. The Story of Asia Kliachina has joined the ranks of a number of important films of world cinema which became legendary before they were ever seen by the public.
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