Post by Anna Fomicheva
#10 Lena Vorontsova from Tiger Girl (“Укротительница тигров”, 1954)
Tiger Girl is your standard 1950’s boy-meets-girl-things-go-wrong-misunderstanding-ensues-until-it’s-all-resolved-and-they-lived-happily-ever-after Soviet romcom. However, of all the blonde and curly-haired romantic heroines of the period, Lena Vorontsova (played by Lyudmila Kasatkina) is undoubtedly my favourite.
Lena, who works as a cleaner of animal cages and the feeder of various predators in a circus, dreams of becoming a wildcat-tamer and performer, the type that puts their head into a lion’s mouth. She also meets a dashing motorcycle racer who gets his own hair-raising number within the circus programme. He invites her to become his assistant and to go on tour. She’s over the moon about it, until an opportunity to take over the wild cats comes up. She chooses the tigers over the man, and he has to eat his pride.
It is a very 1950’s girl-power, but a girl-power nonetheless. And Kasatkina’s convincing presence, infectious laughter and overall good-nature make this character irresistible as well as inspiring even within the constraints of the romantic comedy genre.
#9 Valya Korolkova from The Journalist and By the Lake (“Журналист”, 1967; “У озера”, 1969)
This character, portayed by Valentina Telichkina, appears in two different Sergey Gerasimov films and plays quite a minor role in both of them, but what an unusual and delightful character she is!
The Journalist and By the Lake are not connected in any way narratively. They could be said to explore the same themes but only in a very general sense, and Valya is the only character they share, which makes it particularly interesting and unusual. The first time we meet her, in Journalist, she occupies a very minor position in a provincial newspaper. I’m guessing that initially she was meant to provide a sort of comic relief, as she seems to be one of the young-pretty-and-stupid-girl types who have no idea what they’re doing in the world of hard-boiled male reporters. Her boss is often frustrated with how not-on-the-ball she is and there is plenty of girlish silliness and naivety on display. However, Telichkina’s portrayal of Valya has a strong element of stubborness of the best kind to it. She doesn’t easily shake off the abuse of her superiors, as a comic, one-dimensional character would, and gets visibly upset by the comments. But very importantly she never seems to be disouraged and never loses her kind disposition and ultimately herslef in this male-dominated world and male-dominated job. Gerasimov and Telichkina (I cannot help but give the actress a considerable chunk of credit here) play with our expectations, and it always makes me happy to think that not only did the director allow for her little story to play out in the background, but that he wrote her into the next script.
When we encounter her in By the Lake she is already a full-blown and relatively independant reporter. She is undoubtedly more mature here, but more with a sense of professionalism rather than cynicism. She is still true to herself in her kindness, open-mindedness, and what we might have previously considered to be girlish silliness, but now know better to perceive as a unique personal feature, which has nothing to suggest about her intellect.
#8 Nastya from Adam’s Rib (“Ребро Адама, 1990)
“Four women, three generations, one apartment…” reads the anglophone promotional poster for this film, and it certainly is an apt description of the Russian Adam’s Rib. However I feel that this movie is a lot more than just a very poignant drama about the lives and unsuccessful loves of three generations of women in one family. To me it is one of those rare films that manage to capture a moment in time and space so fully that they end up becoming a testament to it without ever intending to do so. And no other character in the film provides more commentary on the last years of the decay of the Soviet Empire than the 15 year old Nastya, played by Mariya Golubkina.
Having been born in the mid-70’s, the prime of Brezhnev’s Stagnation, and come of age during Gorbachev’s Perestroika (which along with all the freedoms is also remembered for being a period of economic mess, food shortages and universal discontent) Nastya exists in the world of no opportunity and no clear future for young people like herself. This, combined with the teenage angst, and quite clearly a very bright mind, makes for an arresting as well as tragic character.
She is bitter, difficult, and extremely cynical, but at the same time a survivor who cares deeply about her family and, inevitably, hides a sensitive soul.
During the late-Soviet period who you knew meant what kind of goods you had access to, and never more so than during the 1980’s. Thus the only way for Nastya to ensure that her slightly ditsy mother and soft-natured sister have ‘a good life’ is to work in a grocery store and have connections in the goods distribution system. It’s a depressing environment, but her resignation to it and realistic worldview make her more adult than any of the adults in the film.
As hilarious as it is, Nastya’s sarcastic deadpan humour, which is pretty much her only mode of interaction with the world, leaves a bitter taste: “Do you know what communism is, mother? It is when every Soviet person has a butcher among their acquaintances”.