To call Kira Muratova one of the most unique filmmakers in the world would be an understatement. Its commonly known that even the most ardent of her fans usually approach her work with a form of subversive neglect, mostly caused by her "repetitiveness." Obviously they dont realize that human beings are repetitive (they also might wanna try a Tsai film, or not). To me thats more or less become a fashionable thing to say because I havent found any of her films a torture to sit through; although, I could certainly recommend a few that are. Anyway, as Chris Fujiwara brilliantly puts it, "No other director presents people the way Kira Muratova does. Her uncompromising films are filled with histrionics, rhetorical steam baths, people talking at the same time and not listening to one another, emotionalism juxtaposed with coolness. Gestures, actions, exchanges, lines of dialogue get repeated and drawn out past reasonable bounds. Such absurdism would be easier to absorb if it were just absurdism, but Muratova leaves her audience defenseless in the face of whats arguably the most subversive aspect of her work: her refusal to treat people as repulsive or ridiculous."
Born in 1934 in Soroca, Romania (now Maldova), she moved to the Soviet Union at an early age (she now resides in Ukraine). She starred in her brilliant debut feature, Brief Encounters (1967), and since then have made about a dozen more. Ive been fortunate to see about half of them with Long Farewells (1971), The Asthenic Syndrome (1989), and Three Stories (1997) standing above the rest. Muratova is an eccentric and her personality peeks through in all of her films but perhaps in none more so than in her minor, yet not insignificant Chekhovian Motives (Chekhovskie Motivy). The film starts off with a barn worker chasing his "wet one," a goat that is, and ends with another short sequence. However, the rest is mostly comprised of two rather long set-pieces, both about an hour in length each. The first half, an update of Anton Checkhovs "Difficult People," situates itself around a dinner table where a young city student tries to coax some money out of his overbearing father. Words are said and repeated, rather loudly I might add, and ultimately things are broken but without much progress. You dont have to be a Chekhov student to come to the conclusion that there isn't much here that resembles his work. But the reason this half is uninteresting is because its not highly original in form or content (the shot of a sleepy kid, notwithstanding).
But the second half is pure madness, or, in other words, pure Muratova. This one, a loose adaptation of Chekhovs unfinished play "Tatyana Repina," entirely takes place inside a church where we find ourselves in the middle of a Russian Orthodox wedding. The Old and the New Russians are there, bitching about themselves and each other, along with the heat, smoking, transsexuals, the bride and groom etc. We learn that this is the second time for the bride so "shes been through this before," as someone muses, while the groom is experiencing "optical illusions" of his mistress who poisoned herself recently. As Muratovas camera pans the scene we realize that some of the costumes wouldnt look out of place at a runway in Milan, while others seem to be borrowed from the Czars (Fujiwara isnt entirely wrong when he calls Chekhovian Motives a counterpart of Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark ). Nevertheless, this is pure satire and, while humid and claustrophobic, it seems timeless in its tranquillity, but if youre looking for subtlety, stay the @#%$ away!
But unlike, say, the films of Emir Kusturica, who often resemble a self-indulgent mess (partly on purpose), the madness in Chekhovian Motives is controlled by Muratovas pitch-perfect mise-en-scne; all captured with luminous B&W cinematography. (Also, if youve seen Muratovas earlier films along with Jan Svankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure (1996) and Aleksei German's Khrustalyov, My Car! (1999) then youll be able to pick out many of the actors from this sequence.) After the wedding guests leave, the remaining staff of the church ruminates about life and death, and what theyre doing is so meaningless. Not long after, we get to witness the bridegrooms rendition of a powerful piece composed by Valentin Silvestrov. But, ultimately, Muratova takes us back to the house where we began and moves us, and if that surprises you, then you dont know Muratova.