Moskva Slezam Ne Verit
MOSKVA SLEZAM NE VERIT
(Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears; Moscow Distrusts Tears)
Director: Vladimir Menshov
Production: Mosfilm; color; running time: 145 minutes.
Producer: V. Kuchinsky; screenplay: Valentin Yornykh; photography: Igor Slabnjewitsch; editor: Jelene Mischajora; music: Sergei Nikitin; art designer: Said Menyalshchikov.
Cast: Vera Alentova (Katya); Alexsei Batalov (Goscha); Irina Muravyova (Lyuda); Raissa Ryazanova (Antonia); Yuri Vasilyav (Rudolf).
Awards: Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, 1980.
Bauman, E., "Vremia skvoz' sud'by," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 2, 1980.
Ishimov, V. and others, "Pochemu tak vzolnovany zriteli," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 9, 1980.
Engvan, I., "Moskva tror inte pa tarar," in Filmrutan (Sweden), no. 4, 1981.
Fonda-Bonardi, C., in Cineaste (New York), vol. 11, no. 3, 1981.
Gusner, I., "Lieber arm, aber gluecklich: der Autor des Films Moskauglaubt den Traenen nicht, Walentin Tschernych, ueber seine Arbeit," in Film and Fernsehen (Berlin), vol. 9, no. 1, 1981.
Tschernych, W., "Ein phaenomenaler Erfolg," in Film and Fernsehen (Berlin), vol. 9, no. 6, 1981.
Schickel, Richard, "Cinema: Lovers and Laziness," in Time (New York), 11 May 1981.
Kauffman, Stanley, New Republic (New York), 23 May 1981.
Grenier, R., "Movies: A Soviet 'New Wave'?," in Commentary (New York), July 1981.
Stefanoni, L., "Mosca non crede alle lacrime," in Cineforum (Bergamo), December 1981.
Poitras, H., "Moscou est insensible aux larmes," in Sequences (London), January 1982.
Bruciamonti, A., "Mosca non crede alle lacrime," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), February 1982.
Portal, M., "Moscou ne croit pas aux larmes," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), February 1982.
Thirard, P. -L., "Moscou ne croit pas aux larmes," in Positif (Paris), June 1982.
Schmemann, S., "Ordinary Life Stars in Soviet Films," in the NewYork Times, 14 August 1983.
Skoop, vol. 22, no. 3, April-May 1986.
Galiano, C., "Salir no quiere decir llegar," in Cine Cubano (Habana), no. 119, 1987.
Koroleva, A., "Odnazhdy v SSSR," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 2, 1996.
Balynina, N., "Moskvici i gosti stolicy," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 8, August 1997.
* * *
It may be true that Moscow does not believe in tears but the film by this title is at least a two-handkerchief movie. Russian sentiment is the ultimate driving force in this exploration of love, social class, success and failure, male-female roles, traditional versus modern Russian values, and the nature of family. Part I focuses on the social circle of a young working-class Russian woman, a factory worker whose ambition leads to dramatic professional and personal choices; Part II examines the consequences of these decisions 20 years later. We also see what has happened to her contemporaries over two decades, and how Soviet society has changed as well. Though romantic in its resolution, the film is also sometimes as tough-minded as its title suggests, with fairly scathing commentaries on how the new Soviet society has gone wrong.
Katerina, the heroine, played by Vera Alentova, and her more extroverted friend Ludmilla (Irina Muravyova) are non-Muscovites employed in a factory and living in a workers' dormitory in Moscow. Katerina has failed her college entrance exam by just two points, and her drive to succeed is contrasted, often amusingly, with Ludmilla's search for a quick way up. "Life is a lottery," she maintains, in which women can win the right kind of socially prestigious husband and Moscow citizenship with all the privileges it brings. A third friend, Tonya is more conventional than Katerina or Ludmilla, marrying early for love and settling for a typical domestic life with a kindly man. When Ludmilla's uncle lends her a dream apartment (in fact, a real edifice built by Stalin and famed as a touchstone of unimaginable wealth), she and Katerina, claiming they are daughters of a famous professor, play host to a party for successful males (some of whom Ludmilla picks up in the Lenin library). This ploy allows Ludmilla to snare her mate, a popular athlete, and leads to the seduction of Katerina by Rudolph, a young television cameraman, who has a ready patter about the coming triumph of technology. When Katerina becomes pregnant, she refuses to press him for marriage or even help, Ludmilla's intervention notwithstanding; Rudolph proves a weak mama's boy and Katerina has the baby alone, beginning a hard life as a single mother working her way up in the male world of the factory.
Part I has some sharp defining moments which illuminate Soviet life of the late 1950s. The long nightmare of Stalin was over and young people could speak more freely than their parents ever could, but the agonizing rebuilding period after World War II, the Great Patriotic War, was not yet finished, with cramped and flimsy "Khrushchev apartments" unable to accommodate the flood of immigrants to the cities. Rudolph's mother says explosively that she's had enough of communal living, and won't allow Katerina and her baby into her apartment already filled with four people; crowded shots of wedding celebrations and meals accentuate her complaint, the camera angles showing ceilings and doorways framing teeming groups. The class system is alive and well, as former peasants take new roles in factories that only enforce their distance from the educated nomenklatura, the elite academic and managerial class. Ludmilla comments that two things give you away—incorrect speech and dumb questions—and goes on to explain that stupidities spoken with confidence become a "point of view." But how she overcomes speech is never explained. There is a lusting after things urban and foreign: Rudolph the cameraman has a non-Russian name and is far more enchanted with his glitzy technology than with human or social values. A festival of French films draws groupies squealing at the sight of Russian stars in attendance, including, amusingly, Innokenty Smoktundusky, the Soviet Union's most popular star, playing himself as he was in 1958, an unknown and aging bit player. Yet in spite of these faults, Soviet society then offered hope for the future, a hope manifest in the character of Katerina and Ludmilla, both struggling in their own ways for a better life.
Part I ends with Katerina setting her alarm clock. Part II begins with the shot dissolving into an alarm ringing, but it is a newer, fancier clock, in a far nicer apartment, 20 years having passed. Katerina's daughter, Alexandra, is now a young woman, and Katerina herself is an executive running a factory, a series of shop floor promotions having provided her with a later 1970s dream lifestyle: office job, car, a nice apartment. A chance television appearance reintroduces Rudolph (now Rodion, a Russian name), who has two failed marriages behind him and is still pushing a camera around. He asks to see his daughter, but Katerina refuses. She is having an unsatisfactory affair with a married man but is still reluctant to accept the advances of Gosha, a handsome fitter she meets on a train. He pursues her charmingly, cooking meals, winning over her daughter, and generally epitomizing the idealized socialist man, a manual worker completely satisfied by the challenges of his research institute work unit, while also exhibiting literacy and amazing technical and social competence. Rudolph's crashing into the scene to see his daughter leads to Gosha walking out, not over sexual jealousy, but because Katerina has never revealed the importance and salary of her job to him; this contretemps is resolved in a very Russian way, with huge quantities of vodka. The film ends with Katerina, Gosha, and Alexandra eating at the kitchen table, a domestic tableau emblematic of the triumph of Russian family values. The passionate tangos which had dominated the background music of Katerina's earlier, superficial relationships are replaced by bitter-sweet Russian love songs indicative of her finally having found her true place.
Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears has it both ways: it is sometimes harsh in its depiction of individual frailty (alcoholism, male ego, female duplicity) while implying that the authorities provide insufficient remedies, a neat trick that surprised American audiences but not Russian ones, but it is also soft, even sentimental, in the final analysis. Katerina exclaims to Gosha, "How long I searched for you!" He replies, "Eight days," the period of his tantrum, and she repeats her line, indicating a faith in the idea of the One True Other, the ultimate romantic concept. Gosha has complained earlier that growing cabbages is as noble a work as being an emperor. He also is offended that Katerina might think a person's social standing is more important than their personal qualities. If all Soviets had lived by these values, the Union would survive still: socialist morality and domesticity meet ambition tamed by common sense.
Unfortunately, the main characters of Moscow have much in common with the heroic statues of male and female workers which rise above exhibits to working-class accomplishments: they are too perfect, too idealized, simply too much to engage the long-term imagination. (Katerina and Gosha admit he is "perfect"). As glossy exemplars of their place and time, however, they are excellent, as evidenced by the phenomenal box-office successes of this film, both in the Soviet Union (where it was the most popular film of the 1970s) and the US (Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 1980). Happily, the film overcomes its hortatory roots, providing a wonderfully satisfying emotional experience: when viewed, this isnot Soviet woman and man, but rather skillfully realized individual portraits created through fine acting and an engaging plot. Ultimately, comedy rescues Moscow from sentimentality—the viewer chuckles at these very human mortals struggling to get by.
—Andrew and Gina Macdonald