Noyabrina Victorovna Mordyukova in Konstantinovsk, Soviet Union (now
Russia), 25 November 1925.
FIPRESCI Award, Otto Dibelius Film Award, and Special Jury Prize, all
Berlin International Film Festival, and Silver Spur Award, Flanders
International Film Festival, for
Molodaja gvardia ( The Young Guard ) (Sergei Gerasimov) (as Uliana Gromova)
Vozvrashcheniye Vasiliya Bortnikova ( The Return of Vasili Bortnikov ) (Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Kalinovaya roshcha ( Snowball-Tree Grove ) (Timofei Levchuk)
Chuzhaya rodnya ( Other People's Relatives ) (Mikhail Shvejtser)
Yekaterina Voronina (1957) (Isidor Annensky)
Dobrovoltsy ( Volunteers ) (Yuri Yegorov)
Khmuroye utro ( Grey Dawn ) (Grigori Roshal); Otchij dom ( Parental Home ) (Lev Kulidzhanov) (as Stepanida)
Prostaya istoriya ( A Simple Story ) (Yuri Yegorov); Vsyo nachinayetsya s dorogi ( Everything Begins with Hitting the Road ) (Vilen Azarov and Nikolai Dostal)
Zhenitba Balzaminova ( Balzaminov's Marriage ) (Konstantin Voinov) (as Belotelova); Predsedatel ( The Chairman ) (Aleksei Saltykov)
Tridtsat tri ( Nenauchnaya fantastika ) ( Thirty Three ) (Georgii Danelia)
Voyna i mir II: Natasha Rostova ( War and Peace , part II) (Sergei Bondarchuk) (as Anissya Fyodorovna); Dyadyushkin son ( Dream of an Uncle ) (Konstantin Voinov)
Komissar ( The Commissar ) (Aleksandr Askoldov) (as Klavdia Vavilova)
Voyna I mir, I ( War and Peace , part I) (Sergei Bondarchuk) (as Anissya Fyodorovna); Brilliantovaya ruka ( Diamond Arm ) (Leonid Gaidai) (as House manager); Zhuravushka ( A Little Crane ) (Nikolai Moskalenko)
Dvoryanskoye gnyezdo ( A Nest of Gentlefolk ) (Andrei Konchalovsky); Gori, gori, moya zvezda ( Burn, Burn, My Star ) (Aleksandr Mitta)
Ballada o Beringe i ego druzyah ( The Ballad of Bering and His Friends ) (Yuri Shvyryov); Sluchaj s Poluninym ( The Polunin Case ) (Aleksei Sakharov)
Molodye ( Young People ) (Nikolai Moskalenko); Russkoye pole ( Russian Field ) (Nikolai Moskalenko)
Dva dnya trevogi ( Two Days of Anxiety ) (Aleksandr Surin); Vozvrata net ( No Return ) (Aleksei Saltykov)
Lev Gurych Sinichkin (Aleksandr Belinsky—for TV)
Oni srazhalis za rodinu ( They Fought for the Motherland ) (Sergei Bondarchuk); Semya Ivanovykh ( The Ivanov Family ) (Aleksei Saltykov)
Inkognito iz Peterburga ( Incognito from St.Petersburg ) (Leonid Gaidai) (as Anna Andreyevna Skvoznik-Dmukhanovskaya)
Tryasina ( Quagmire ) (Grigori Chukhrai) (as Matryona)
Veroy i pravdoy ( With Faith and Truth ) (Andrei Smirnov)
Rodnya ( Kinfolk ) (Nikita Mikhalkov)
Etyud dlya domino s royalem ( Etude for Dominoes and Piano ) (Yevgeniya Golovina); Vokzal dlya dvoikh ( A Railway Station for Two ) (Eldar Ryazanov)
Ot zarplaty do zarplaty ( From Pay To Pay ) (Aida Manasarova)
Ssuda na brak ( Loan for a Marriage ) (Konstantin Voinov)
Zapretnaya zona ( Forbidden Zone ) (Nikolai Gubenko)
Beguschaya mishen' ( Running Target ) (Talgat Temenov)
Luna Park (Pavel Lungin)
Shirli-Myrli ( What a Mess! ) (Vladimir Menshov)
Mama (Denis Yevstigneyev) (as Polina)
Turovskaya, Maya. "Commissar," in Russian Critics on the Cinema of Glasnost , edited by Michail Brashinsky and Andrew Horton, Cambridge, 1994.
Hoberman, J. "Beyond the Pale: Soviet Jews and Soviet Jewish Cinema," in The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism , Philadelphia, 1998.
* * *
Her sturdy appearance, stout demeanor, and forceful screen presence have made Nonna Mordyukova the quintessential Russian actress. In a career spanning over half a century, this "towering woman" has been cast in a number of heart-breaking war-time dramas, has become a symbol of Russian peasant womenfolk, and has come to be regarded as one of the best female comedians. Her large face, seemingly nondescript but nonetheless able to convey a multitude of feelings and be beautiful at times, makes her equally suited for complex dramatic roles as well as for comedies. Mordyukova has come to be seen as an epitome of "Russianness" whatever multiple meanings the concept may convey. It is no wonder that many of the films she has been cast in were literary adaptations of novels by leading Russian and Soviet authors, such as Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Alexei Tolstoy, Vladimir Tendryakov, Anatoli Rybakov, Yevgeni Dolmatovsky, and Yuri Nagibin.
Mordyukova, whose first name, Nonna, is a short version of Noyabrina (after the month of her birth, November, but also alluding a revolutionary legacy), spent her youth during the difficult years of World War Two (1941–1945). She debuted in cinema at the age of 23 in the 1948 screen adaptation of the classical war-time novel by Aleksandr Fadeyev, Molodaya gvardia (1948), the story of a group of young people who organize an underground resistance against the Nazi invaders. The film was directed by veteran Sergei Gerassimov, and Mordyukova was entrusted with the female lead of Uliana Gromova, a beloved role model for Soviet youth at the time. This role immediately positioned her at the forefront of the younger generation of actors. From early on she attracted attention with her unusual appearance, as if conceived by a modernist sculptor: a sturdy large woman with a rough face able to display a much wider range of feelings than an ordinary good-looking female actress.
Mordyukova has often been cast in films about the war, like Sergei Bondarchuk's World War Two epic Oni srazhalis za rodinu (1975), based on Mikhail Sholokhov's novel, where she played alongside Vasili Shukshin, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Yevgeni Samoilov, Lidiya Fedoseyeva-Shukshina, and Innokenti Smoktunovsky.
Mordyukova's most regular work is with directors Aleksei Saltykov and Nikolai Moskalenko, in whose dramatic films she has been a regular lead or key supporting actress. Her impressive filmography reveals, however, that while she has had the chance to work with a constellation of the best Soviet directors, it has usually been for one project only. There is no high profile director with whom she has a continuous working relationship. After her work for Gerassimov on Molodaya gvarida , she was cast in the last movie of veteran Vsevolod Pudovkin The Return of Vasiliya Bortnikova (1952). Other one-time collaborations with well-known directors have been with Mikhail Shvejtser for Chuzhaya rodnya (1955), Lev Kulidzhanov for Otchij dom (1959), with Andrei Konchalovsky for the Turgenev adaptation Dvoryanskoye gnyezdo (1969), with Grigori Chukhrai for Tryasina (1978), and with Nikolai Gubenko for Zapretnaya zona (1988). She only played once in a film by Nikita Mikhalkov, who structured his village comedy-drama Kinfolk (1981) entirely around the personality of the actress, who had by that time established herself as an epitome of the Russian peasant woman.
Some of Mordyukova's one-time collaborations have been with well-known comedy directors who have put her talents to best use. For two of these comedies, the grotesque absurdist sketch Thirty Three (1965, directed by Georgi Danelia), and the romantic revolutionary tale Gori, gori, moya zvezda (1969, directed by Aleksandr Mitta), the big-boned Mordyukova was paired with the short and plump Yevgeni Leonov, another Soviet comedy star. The very discrepancy in their appearances produced a comic effect further strengthened by the ensuing reversal of traditional gender roles.
In her capacity of leading female comedian Mordyukova delivered a great performance as the house-manager, a key supporting role in Leonid Gaidai 's Brilliantovaya ruka (1968), believed to be the most popular Soviet comedy of all times. Here she played alongside leading comedy stars Yuri Nikulin, Anatoliy Papanov, and Andrei Mironov. A decade later, Gaidai paired her once again with Papanov for his adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's comedy Revizor , Incognito from St. Peterburg (1977). Eldar Ryazanov, the other leading Soviet comedy director, also used Mordyukova for a key supporting role. In his bittersweet prison comedy Railway Station for Two (1983), she played alongside Lyudmilla Gurchenko, Oleg Basilashvili, and Nikita Mikhalkov. The film, which was seen by millions across the Soviet Union and is one of the most popular films of the 1980s, was nominated for a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983.
The role of Klavida Vavilova in Aleksandr Askoldov's Komissar (1967) is Mordyukova's most memorable work. It is difficult to judge, however, to what extent it impacted her career, as the film, shot in 1966, was shelved and was only released in 1988. By that time Mordyukova was over sixty and had starred in over twenty other films. The wide critical acclaim and appreciation for what is probably her best performance came too late to have any definitive effect on her profile as an actor.
Komissar was the impressive first (and only) film by Alexander Askoldov, whose career was ruined by the shelving of this debut work. The screenplay for this avant-gardist project was based on the 1934 short story In the Town of Berdichev by Vassili Grossman, and the music was composed by Alfred Schnittke. The film is set during the civil war (1918–1920). Nonna Mordyukova is Klavdia Vavilova, a robust and boisterous Red Army Commissar who has accidentally become pregnant. She is too busy fighting to even notice her pregnancy, and when she does, it is too late to abort as she would normally do. Compelled to give birth, Klavdia is placed for the last weeks of her pregnancy in the care of a poor Jewish family while the war rages outside. Vavilova's presence puts Yefim Magazannik's (Rolan Bykov) large family in immediate danger, and their relations are tense and adverse. As days go by, Vavilova grows fond of the simple joys of family life, and her rough war persona becomes kind and humane. When she gives birth, she is unable to care for the baby, and returns to the front. In a surreal scene Vavilova has a nightmarish premonition of Holocaust, a vision of a group of Jews, including all members of her host family, taken off to a death camp.
During the period of perestroika, Mordyukova appeared in a number of supporting roles in a range of comedy-dramas. Similarly, she has been a highly visible presence throughout the 1990s, with supporting roles in some of the most-popular Russian features, such as Pavel Lungin's Luna Park (1992) and Vladimir Menshov's Shirli-Myrli (1995). In 1999 she played the leading role in Mama (1999), directed by Denis Yevstigneyev (son of respected Russian actor Yevgeni Yevstigneyev), a family saga loosely based on a real story, mixing action, melodrama and comedy elements and spanning several decades. In Mama , Mordyukova is Polina, a single mother of four, whose continuous efforts to keep the family together are doomed as her sons scatter all over the vast Soviet empire, from Vladivostok to Tadjikistan, and from the Far North to Donbas. Critics have celebrated Mordyukova's return to the spotlight by calling her "a sacred Russian kinozaurus."