Friday, July 31, 2009

Feminism and Soviet Movies

For the past couple of days, I've been watching this great Soviet mini-series called "Shadows Disappear at Noon." It was filmed in 1971 and it is a great example of the image of women cultivated in Soviet movies.

At the beginning of the series set in 1915, we see Maria, an illiterate day laborer who is a lover of a rich mill-owner and a mother of his illegitimate child. One day, the mill-owner and his buddies are making fun of Maria because of her marginalized social status. The mill-owner tells his friends that Maria loves him so much that he can make her do anything for him. To prove this point, he comes up to Maria and says: "If you go into the woods right now, armed with nothing but this small knife, and kill a bear for me and bring me his skin, I will finally marry you and give you my mill."

So Maria goes into the woods and reemerges after a while with a huge bear skin. "I'm so sorry for doing this, my dear," says the mill-owner. "Don't worry, now I'll marry you and you will be a co-owner of my mill." "I don't want your marriage, I don't want your mill, and I don't want you," responds Maria proudly. She leaves the village to become a factory worker in a big city and provide for her child. Later, she becomes politically active and turns into an inspirational leader. The mill-owner keeps following her around, begging her to give him a second chance.

In the rest of the mini-series, one can observe a curious ideological consistency: positive female characters are assertive, powerful, and head-strong. Negative female characters allow men to walk all over them.

This mini-series was one of the last examples of the long line of Soviet films that presented images of strong, assertive women as positive. By the end of the 70ies, characters like Maria started disappearing from the Soviet movie and TV screens to give way to sad, pathetic, weepy women, who feel that they have to deserve male attention at any cost.

P.S. In the episode I'm watching right now, a female character suspects that her neighbor is having an affair with her husband. She confronts her neighbor aggressively but the sisterhood wins almost immediately and both women ask each other for forgiveness and have a nice bonding moment. It's such a pleasure to watch a film that shows female solidarity as being way more important than fighting for a man's affection.

9 comments:

Natalee said...

Is there a way to watch it in English? It sounds too good to be true. :-)

Clarissa said...

I don't think so, unfortunately. But I thought it would be a great idea to share it with people at least in this limited format of a blog post.

Tom Carter said...

Unfortunately, Maria was an image drawn from Soviet propaganda. It seems to accurately depict the attitudes of men toward women in Russia now and then, but women like Maria existed mostly in the imagination.

Based on my time living in Moscow, men tend to be rude and crude toward women, and women tend to take it fairly submissively, confining their strength to their influence within families. Reading Russian history and literature simply reinforces that what I observed directly is the way it has always been.

Clarissa said...

"women like Maria existed mostly in the imagination"

-No, Tom, they just existed in the previous generations. My greatgrandmother and my grandmother were this kind of woman. Then, unfortunately, the image of an utterly pathetic, miserable woman started being promoted. In no little way, this was responsible for the emergence of the situation you observed.

Anonymous said...

That's it. I am learning Russian!

I wonder why such a series was produced in the 1970s, and why images of strong women disappeared in the 1980s. Popular Soviet movies in the 1940s and 1950 were mostly weepy melogramas, am I right?

Propaganda and socialism: have you seen Humberto Solas's Lucía? It is a Cuban film from the same period as Shadows disappear at noon. You should watch it. Just another movie suggestion!

Ol.

Clarissa said...

"Popular Soviet movies in the 1940s and 1950 were mostly weepy melogramas, am I right?"

-There were so many amazing movies in the 40ies and the 50ies. Very ideological but beautifully made and very convincing.

Thank you for the movie suggestion! I'm starting an article on the film version of Marse's "El amante bilingue" which will be my first attempt to analyze a fiilm.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I know you can apply your analytical skills to a movie!

I don't know where my [lack of] knowledge of the Soviet cinema from the 1940s and 1950s comes from. I have read that between Eisenstein and Kalatozov, Soviet cinema was all about unimaginative melodramas and dull propaganda. No kidding. Could you provide me with some titles?

Ol.

Clarissa said...

I totally recommend Quiet Flows the Don (1960). It does exist in English and even Amazon sells it.

http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Flows-Don-Pyotr-Glebov/dp/B000LV6OHQ

Here is a love scene from it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB8CoKkF8aQ

The movie is very anti-communist, profound, conflictive. The author got a Novel prize for the book it's based on. You can't but love this film.

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