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November 2, 2003 by AK

The Sky. The Plane. The Girl

Yes, I have finally seen that movie (Nebo. Samolyot. Devushka). There’s little sense in blogging about a film most of my readers have never seen, and never will, but I’ll indulge my whim. It’s a 2002 movie by Vera Zvonareva starring Renata Litvinova, quite a star in the Russian movie, fashion and style world.

The first name that crossed my mind: Kira Muratova. If you have seen one film by that outstanding Odessa director, you’ll know what I mean. Echoes of The Asthenic Syndrome, The Sentimental Policeman and The Three Stories (one of which featured Litvinova, too) should be easily discernible in The Sky…

The actresses’ manners are deliberately unnatural, artificial, contrived — thus producing a rather convincing degree of genuineness. (My wife thinks Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun is unabashedly artificial and thought-up — and yet, it’s also piercing and heartbreaking.) The whole thing is also intentionally derivative: some characters speak in cliches, and Litvinova’s flight attendant says the tritest things with a whole lot of meaning. Some scenes make you wonder whether you’re facing a parody or the deepest truth; indeed, the best in art is found on the brink of bad taste.

Note that Renata Litvinova, whose off-screen appearances leave an impression her only obsession on this earth is with keeping her sophistication up-to-date, is surprisingly plain-looking in The Sky.

Now on to criticizing critics.

Marcus Stiglegger:

A clearly recognizable will for style is visible in Vera Storoževa’s drama Nebo. Samoljot. Devuška (The Sky. The Plane. The Girl, 2002). In radically reduced, cold arrangements she tells the story of a romantic young stewardess (screenwriter Renata Litvinova in the title-role) which is torn apart by her fear of relationships and her love for a TV-journalist who crosses her lonely way. In the end she seems to stand by her new love, but a plane-accident will end her life too soon. Despite some flaws in the wordy dialogue and the artificial acting this film creates a stunning visual beauty within aseptic surroundings and empty airport hallways.

Well said, but the dialogs only seem wordy to the critic: as I’ve said, they are full of meaning, but it helps to know the context to understand them, and to have a taste for Muratova-esque dialog. Also, “lost in translation” applies as usual.

Henry Sheehan:

In many ways, this is not a “good” film; it is too full of starry-eyed close-ups and, to Western ears, sentimental disquisitions on what a love-sick woman seeks in a man. But aside from real virtues (including an abashed engagement with its heroine’s emotional life), the movie connected almost electrically with Russian audiences, especially women.

The critic is pretending he’s a just a lay simpleton, but the movie’s creators are just the opposite. It’s hard not to see that the “starry-eyed close-ups” are anything but ingenuous, but their engineered longueur does produce a odd jolt of sincerity. Straightforward sincerity doesn’t work anymore! Sheehan also seems to have a problem putting Litvinova’s acting into the right context; again, translation must have been the weak link.

More Sheehan:

Litvinova’s character, a flight attendant named Lara (called a “stewardess” in the festival catalogue’s description) hardly seems a paragon of independence. She’s flighty (no pun intended), dreamy, and eternally lovelorn, even when, in the movie’s first scene, she meets what appears to be the man of her dreams. […] The idea that Lara might be some sort of subservient character, though, is completely undermined by Storozheva’s shooting style, which relies heavily on close- and closer-ups of Litvinova. The actress could probably arrest a camera from the other side of a meadow. In these looming views she’s utterly dominant. Yet she also has real star pizzazz – she’s a peculiarly Russian Audrey Hepburn, if you will – and her particular brand of whimsy, if you are taken by it, isn’t punctured by the ever-hovering lens.

One has to feel sorry for a critic so attached to the dominance-submission paradigm that he refuses to notice the obvious: Litvinova’s character is independent because she is true to herself, and if she submits at some point, it is to her love, not her lover. She always does her best not to make people around her feel bad, and that costs her a lot of effort, so there is no doubt she is strong. Believing that the true love of dreams and books exists is not a sign of sentimentality; if I didn’t, what point would be there in living? It’s just awfully hard to get the message through these days.

Even more Sheehan:

The well-educated young Russian woman who accompanied me to the screening told me she believed the Litvinova captured the “true soul” of Russian womanhood in “The Sky, the Plane, the Girl.” Having seen the reaction of the audience – many of whom must have been seeing for the second or third time – others must share that opinion.

Thanks for a good laugh, Henry! You should have learnt long ago that the “Russian soul” is an unnecessarily lengthy expression: it’s enough to say just “soul”, for Russians are the only humans with souls; Westerners have only brains, and others, instincts.


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