A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wings (Larisa Shepitko, 1966)

Wings was the first feature by Larisa Shepitko, who made only four of them before dying in an automobile accident in 1979, only 41. I've now seen two of her films, the other being her last completed one, The Ascent (1977), and it's clear to me how great a loss her death was. That last film was an extraordinary, harrowing adventure with a brilliant documentary realism but also a profound symbolic resonance. Her first is almost a polar opposite: a low-key character study of a woman whose adventures -- she was a decorated pilot during World War II -- are long behind her. Nadezhda Petrukhina (Mayya Bulgakova) now leads a quiet existence as headmistress of a school that prepares students for work in the construction industry. She is admired by her colleagues and students but unfulfilled by her work. She has an adopted daughter, Tanya (Zhanna Bolotova), but they have grown apart: Nadezhda hasn't even met Tanya's new husband, and when she goes to a party where he's present she mistakenly greets the wrong man as her son-in-law. In addition to supervising repairs at the school and coaching the participants in the school's entry in a theatrical contest, she also has to discipline a rebellious young male student -- with whom, we see, she has a kind of sympathy that is stifled by her official duties. She occasionally sees a man, the director of the local museum where her picture as a war hero is on display -- on a visit to the museum she overhears a girl ask if she's still alive. And occasionally she visits the local airfield to watch cadets being trained. We get a flashback to wartime, when she had a lover, Mitya (Leonid Dyachkov), a fellow pilot whose death in combat she witnessed. Flight, that eternal symbol of freedom, is a strong force even in the earthbound life she leads, and we glimpse her fantasies of soaring through the clouds. So at the film's end, having quit her job, she takes a daring move to achieve that freedom once again. Spare but poetic, with a stunning performance by Bulgakova, Wings was written by Valentin Ezhov and Natalya Ryazantseva and filmed by Igor Slabnevich.

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