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28 May, 2015

The Genius of Ukrainian Cinema

When somebody mentions Ukrainian cinema, I immediately find myself thinking about two major film directors - Sergei Parajanov and Kira Muratove

These artists are as distant from one another as two people of genius can be. Parajanov’s masterpiece Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), based on the story by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky revealing and portraying the unique Ukrainian Hutsul culture, was nothing short ofa miracle, yet it was a meaningful episode in Parajanov’s work otherwise more related to Armenian, Georgian, and Azeri cultures. Kira Muratova appears as a more specific Ukrainian phenomenon.

Sergei Parajanov’s at once timeless and novel cinematographic language signified the arrival of the new epoch of cinema in the eyes ofsuch Italian masters as Vittorio de Sica, Federico Fellini, and Marcello Mastroianni (Mastroianni and Parajanov who held each other in admiration and highest esteem had once met in Tbilisi, Georgia). Yet Kira Muratova appears as deeply grounded in modern Ukrainian society and culture without which it would be difficult to decipher her complex cultural codes and allusions.

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Mapping the world of Muratova’s ethical and esthetical sensitivities would be unthinkable without un-feminist feminism, a paradoxical thing which can only be explained by the character of inner liberation of men and women in Eastern Europe. Freedom can never be ideological here, as ideology has always signified fraud and manipulation. In Western Europe, feminism could become a brother-in-arms to Marxism or any other sort of critical theory and resistance knowledge. In Eastern Europe, women either become beautiful and mysterious or they are just at the peril of being reduced to that obscure object of desire, to recall Luis Buñuel’s film Cet obscur objet du désirThe world of Kira Muratova is deeply permeated with a special sort of feminism which would be impossible to find anywhere in the West. Western European feminism is about emancipation and liberation of women from social roles and frames of meaning imposed on them by the male world of power and symbolic authority; yet Eastern European feminism insists on female beauty, mystery, and their unquestionable superiority over the world shaped and orchestrated by men. In Western Europe, a feminist appears as a militant social and cultural critic, in Eastern Europe – as une femme fatale.

Femininity, beauty, mystery, secrecy, and at least several planes of female identity (or trauma) are indispensable in Muratova’s cinematographic world. Women are beautiful, sensitive, altruistic, caring (or monstrous as Ofelia/Ofa in Three Stories), yet they are never ordinary or forgettable. It is barely accidental that her favorite actresses are cast in such a way as to bear family resemblance to the stars of silent cinematography. This applies to such Muratova’s actresses as Alla Demidova and Nina Ruslanova, but it culminates with Renata Litvinova and Natalya Buzko both inseparable from Muratova’s word of mystery and femininity.

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Moreover, Muratova’s world would be incomplete without grotesque figures – various kinds of crooks, charlatans, thieves, and freaks performed by Georgi Deliyev (especially his unforgettable role in Tuner), Vladimir Komarov, Zhan Daniel, and a plethora of unprofessional actors. In this, Muratova closes ranks with Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini who relied on unprofessional actors.The blend of naiveté, spontaneity, melancholy, fun, laughter, and charms of unpredictable aspects of human life allow the point of entry into the world of the magic – that sort of cinema unspoiled by literary narratives and clichés, popular culture, or TV.

 The Odesa connection cannot be misleading here as Deliyev, Komarov, and Buzko were all the comedians from the legendary pantomime and clowning troupe Masks run by Deliyev himself. The carnival-like atmosphere coupled with the sensation of the unreal exposes Muratova’s ideal of the film as a dream. Ingmar Bergman wrote in his memoir Laterna Magica that to dwell in the space of a dream is an ambition of every genuine film director. Bergman was convinced that he himself achieved this not frequently, and that he fulfilled himself as an artist only in those rare moments when his films opened up for the space of a dream. Andrei Tarkovsky whom Bergman always admired and held the greatest film director of their epoch, according to him, remained unsurpassed as a master whose films became inseparable from the space of a dream.

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So is Kira Muratova – an artist of the space of dreams par excellence. Mercutio’s words from his monologue in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – “True, I talk of dreams,/Which are the children of an idle brain,/Begot of nothing but vain fantasy” – would be the best motto for some of her films. The film as a continuation of a dream which we have once had and, ever since, were unable to forget slowly recollecting an outline of the world around us – this is her only and true esthetic reality. Muratova appears as a type of artist who never quite engages with reality as it is, as if to say that too much reality will kill us. Instead, we have to be prepared to save our dreams, unspoken truths, small parallel worlds, and alternative reality, or our imagination, memory, and intimacy.

The stunning and penetrating beauty of Muratova’s black and white esthetics, accompanied by the magic touch of the great Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov’s music, reaches so far as to make up the aforementioned alternative reality – the one where the forms of political madness, folly and hatred practiced by the aggressively obedient moral majority retreat, disappear, and allow that same space for all of us. Including such Russian actors as Oleg Tabakov and Ivan Okhlobystin whose roles in Muratova’s immortal films stand as a silent appeal and reproach for their moral treachery. 


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