MALENKAYA VERA






(Little Vera)


USSR, 1988


Director: Vasili Pichul

Production: Gorky Studios; colour, 35mm; running time: 134 minutes.

Production manager: Yuri Prober; screenplay: Mariya Khmelik; photography: Yefim Reznikov; editor: Yelena Zabolotskaya; assistant director: Valentina Pereverzeva; art director: Vladimir Pasternak; music: Vladimir Matetski; sound editor: Pavel Drozdov.


Cast: Natalya Negoda ( Vera ); Liudmila Zaitseva ( Mother ); Andrei Sokolov ( Sergei ); Yuri Nazarov ( Father ); Alexander Alexeyev-Negreba ( Viktor ); Alexandra Tabakova ( Christyakova ); Andrei Fomin ( Andrei ); Alexander Mironov ( Tolik ); Alexander Linkov ( Mikhail ).

Publications


Books:

Brashinsky, Michael, and Andrew Horton, Russian Critics on the Cinema of Glasnost , Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Beumers, Birgit, editor, Russia on Reels: The Russian Idea in Post-Soviet Cinema , London, 1999.


Articles:

Variety (New York), 20 July 1988.

Williamson, Anne, "Rubles of the Game," in Film Comment , January/February 1989.

Bassan, R., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1989.

Legrand, J, "Le feu aux poudres" in Positif (Paris), June 1989.

Mazabrard, C., and L. Danilou, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1989.

Horton, A., in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1989.

Glaessner, V., in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1989.

Scheck, F., in Films in Review (New York), October 1989.

Delmas, G., in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October-November 1989.

Elia, M., in Séquences (Montreal), November 1989.

Eagle, H., "The Indexality of Little Vera and the End of Socialist Realism," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), October 1990.

Sperling, V., "Peeking Behind the Celluloid Curtain," in Journal Of Popular Film and Television (Berkeley), Winter 1991.

Cymbal, Evgenij, "Into a New World," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 2, no. 7, November 1992.

Mury, Cécile, "La scandaleuse de Moscou," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2360, 5 April 1995.

Gessen, M., "Sex in the Media and the Birth of the Sex Media in Russia," in Genders , no. 22, 1995.


* * *


While Little Vera , directed by Vasili Pichul, was the most popular film in Russia in 1988, its appearance was met with criticism and skepticism as well as excitement. As the political climate in the Soviet Republics changed once again, the country's relationship with its art transformed as well. Just as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring had accompanied the beginning of the 20th century with atonality and discordance in contrast to the tradition of tonality and comfortable, predictable melodic forms, Little Vera marked the end of Socialist Realism, which depicted reality according to the dictums of the Communist Party, in Soviet film.

This film deals with such unsavory issues as teenage sexuality, alcoholism, and criminality, suggesting the failure of the socialist experiment. As Herbert Eagle observed in Wide Angle , many viewers of this bold work objected to its casual portrayal of sexuality, the crass and hostile behavior of some characters, and its focus on the dismal features of modern Soviet life. "One might therefore have the impression that Little Vera deals with a particularly antisocial, anarchic, uneducated or even criminal stratum of Soviet society," Eagle writes. "In fact, Little Vera 's characters are solidly mainstream and their actions rather typical."

Little Vera takes place in a drab, industrial Ukrainian town, Zhdanov, a standard Soviet town shown as it really is. The atmosphere is hovered with gray smoke; massive blocks of buildings, homes to thousands, are crowded together. Vera, a recent high school graduate, lives with her parents and works as a telephone operator. Her strict mother and alcoholic father are frustrated by her surly attitude and carefree lifestyle. Written by Maria Khemlik, Pichul's wife, the story addresses the hopelessness of this young woman's existence and the degree to which she is defined by the men in her life. Her brother has the elevated status of a doctor and lives in Moscow, many miles removed from his humble beginnings; her devoted boyfriend Andrei pursues Vera tirelessly and offers her secure social status through traditional marriage, which she rejects. But more importantly, as Andrew Horton argues in his review of Little Vera in Film Quarterly , "Vera exists between the sympathetic acceptance of her quietly desperate father and the antisocial freedom represented in Sergei and their tempestuous affair. Neither wholly modern (despite her streaked hair and mod clothes) nor traditional, Vera is squarely caught in the middle with little hope of escape."

As noted in Soviet Cinematography, 1918–1991 , the success of Little Vera is incomparable with other films that became prominent in the first years of perestroika (thaw). Various surveys indicate this film was more popular than all the others. It can be considered a clear example of Gorbachev's glasnost (new openness) policy by marking a pivotal point at which the cinema defied Communist Party values and objectives, reflexively examining and criticizing the social and economic conditions arrived at in the late 20th century by communism. In these early years of glasnost , filmmakers treated social issues in their films with an unfiltered lens and unabashed honesty that had previously been unacceptable. This low-budget Soviet feature was the first Soviet film with a sense of sexual candor, the first to mention AIDS in a feature film, and the first to acknowledge the prevalence of non-white children of white mothers. Cinematographers considered the expansion of sexual matters in movies to be an important aspect of the struggle against official ideology; hence, the movies of 1986–1988 presented a challenge to traditional Soviet ideology by dealing with the realities of sexuality, such as the sexual activity of teenagers, which had not been addressed by official propaganda, and by presenting sexual relationships as pleasurable in and of themselves. The world in Little Vera is ripe with sensuality and passion—but plagued by dysfunction and brutality as well.

Glasnost allowed filmmakers to take new liberties with an audience primed for uncharted material. Pichul's film deals with working-class subject matter and was produced by Gorky Studios in Moscow, one of the smaller studios previously overshadowed by Mosfilm in Moscow and Lenfilm in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The production quality is at times low, in contrast to the seamless, high-quality films that had established the tradition for Soviet films for decades. Little Vera is evidence of how contemporary Soviet cinema moved away from the idealism of Socialist Realism. As Horton observes, the film "is an important contribution to a growing number of films that honestly capture a 'no win' mood of many Soviet young people. . . as opposed to the forced optimism of so many Socialist Realist films of the past." And Eagle argues that " Little Vera 's stylistic raggedness seems intended as a deliberate appeal to indexicality, an assertion that this is life, not Socialist Realism." Little Vera , he believes, can be viewed as the work which marks the arrival of narrative film as an index of actual life, thus it looks and feels like a documentary filmed in a cramped environment.

Anne Williamson, writing in Film Comment , notes that hard-hitting features on contemporary Soviet life had been almost non-existent for nearly 50 years before the arrival of Little Vera : "When Lenin declared cinema to be the most important of all the arts, he intended to harness film's energy to the ambitions of the Soviet state. Under Stalin these aims were further refined in Socialist Realism, which promptly strangled Soviet cinema. After Stalin's passing, the effort to shape and lead the audience devolved into sentimental drivel." In the period of glasnost the cinema could explore a new, ironic beauty on the screen: images untethered by ideology and fear of political sanctions. The camera could once again function as Sergei Eisenstein's kino eye and present film truth. The cinema could capture life and project it on the screen, giving audiences a Lilliputian view of themselves. This honest, cathartic look at Russian society, one hopes, might be a move (as Vera's father toasts before swallowing a glass of vodka) "Forward, singing."

—Kelly Otter

User Contributions:

nc
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 17, 2010 @ 10:22 pm
i recently watched this film and loved it. i was especially touched by the portrayal of family relationships, the way they can be tender and loving but also complex and fraught at the same time. this article was super informative and enlightening; it's really interesting to take a step back and think about the impact of the film on macro level... thank you!
nc
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 18, 2010 @ 6:18 pm
i recently watched this film and loved it. i was especially touched by the portrayal of family relationships, the way they can be tender and loving but also complex and fraught at the same time. this article was super informative and enlightening; it's really interesting to take a step back and think about the impact of the film on macro level... thank you!

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