Issue 57 (2017)

Oksana Bychkova, Aksin’ia Gog, Natal’ia Kudriashova, Renata Litvinova, Natal’ia Nazarova, Anna Parmas, Avdot’ia Smirnova: Petersburg: Only for Love (Peterburg. Tol'ko po liubvi, 2016)

reviewed by Olga Mukhortova© 2017

Petersburg. Only for Love premiered at the Kinotavr Film Festival in 2016. The producers presented the almanac film at the opening screenings as a film that portrays the life of Saint Petersburg. Each of the female directors created one novella, all of which vary in length but focus on the everyday side of the Russian contemporary cultural and former imperial capital.

petersburg-snyRenata Litvinova’s short is a film-dream filled with Iosif Brodskii’s poems, and includes nods to Thaw-era details. The novella depicts a four-generation family of actresses participating in a film shooting. For cinephiles, the piece appears as a quest, in which they can discover many intertextual connections to Litvinova’s previous works both as a director and an actress in Kira Muratova’s films. For example, the figure of the female director making a dream-film simultaneously evokes both Litvinova and Muratova. The French female director literally repeats Muratova’s words from an interview about her film The Tuner (Nastroishchik, 2004), in which she confesses that she has never watched a scene with a kiss that she would like (Fedina 2005). For the first time in her film career, Muratova shot a kissing scene, with Litvinova as a protagonist in The Tuner. Furthermore, Litvinova inserted several reminders from The Goddess: How I Fell in Love (Boginia: Kak ia poliubila, 2004). Bringing back the theme of death, Litvinova’s poet-terrorist connects her personal death with beauty. She addresses the make-up artist: “Make me beautiful. They are going to kill me today.” Dovlatov’s heavily smoking character (Maksim Vitorgan) evokes the fog-like atmosphere from Rita’s Last Fairy-Tale (Posledniaia skazka Rity, 2012).

petersburg-devochkiOksana Bychkova and Avdot’ia Smirnova also shape their novellas on the principle of self-intertextuality. Their films also take inspiration from their previous works. Bychkova’s protagonists, a young couple who met and fall in love walking in Saint Petersburg, present a reincarnation of her love story, Piter FM (2006). Smirnova’s film is a prequel or sequel to Kokoko (2012) which features a lonely female protagonist (Anna Mikhalkova), who works in a museum and looks for family relationships.

Both Anna Parmas and Natal’ia Nazarova focus on the mother-daughter relationship,   albeit in two different social strata. Parmas narrates the story of a pregnant woman and her mother who are native to Petersburg. Nazarova concentrates on the lonely mother, who works on a building site as a crane operator and tries to lift her daughter into a better life by putting her in a boys’ choir.

petersburg-selfieEvery piece of the almanac-film invokes ironic details that create a light slapstick comedy-like atmosphere. Aksin’ia Gog’s novella, however, is openly satirical. The director constructs her work around a female protagonist who is very well-read, primarily in Russian classics and dark romantic poems; the heroine’s literature-centered desire for death brings her to a romantic relationship instead.

Referring to the former imperial capital, the traditional Saint Petersburg film narrative includes emphasis on its (post)-imperial status and rich architectural heritage. In Petersburg. Only for Love, seven female directors, however, create shorts in which they question the dominance of Saint Petersburg’s imperial heritage through gestures towards the city’s contemporary life. The directors present the horizontal axis of the city, fashioning it as not the city of the imperial past but rather accentuating its present everyday life through characters, social places, city views, and discussions. Re-discovering contemporary Saint Petersburg with their protagonists, the directors also use the figure of the flâneur: the plots evolve as they are walking through the streets of Saint Petersburg. Since Baudelaire depicts the figure of the flâneur in his essay The Painter of Modern Life, his cultural figure appears essential for analyzing city life. With his omnipresence and curiosity, this character assists in the discovery of contemporaneity. As Baudelaire maintains: “Observer, philosopher, flâneur [...] he is a painter of the passing moment and of all the suggestions of eternity that it contains” (Baudelaire 1964, 4).

petersburg-koncertConstructing an opposition to the official bird’s-eye point of view of Saint Petersburg’s panoramas and exploring the horizontal cultural axis, Parmas and Nazarova observe the most private parts of city life. They also make privacy gendered, connecting the female life experience with the most hidden sides of life. They offer unremarkable female characters featuring particular places of the female experience in the city, primarily known for its imperial splendor and revolutionary past. Parmas’ The Girls deals with the deeply intimate experience of visiting a female OB/gyn counseling center. Simultaneously, the director intertwines two themes through the mother-daughter dialogue: politics and pregnancy. The private and public sides of life appear to be inseparable in their relationships. Their common family history defines their deep political involvement though, surprisingly, mother and daughter have drastically different agendas. Nazarova’s Just a Concert opens the door to the private life of a working woman trying to combine her “masculine” day job with a glamorous and well-groomed look at night in a concert hall with her daughter. We see the mother washing and styling her hair, putting her make-up on in a sublet room, and dressing in a friend’s boutique, promising to return the expensive glamorous clothes the next day.

petersburg-anichkovBychkova’s and Smirnova’s approach to Saint Petersburg can also be characterized as a “city important for its inhabitants.” The directors show only the parts of the city that are meaningful for their protagonists because they live there, or those moments in which their relationships develope because of the city. Bychkova’s protagonists discuss Petersburg architecture only as it is applicable to their personal lives. Natal’ia Lumpova’s character describes the beautiful art-deco building and shows it to her friend only because she lived there as a child. Petersburg staircases, streets, restaurants, and embankments serve as the background and simultaneously help the protagonists to touch and to take care of each other while falling in love. Thanks to the cold and windy Petersburg weather Aleksandr Pal’s character has a reason to offer his scarf and gloves to his future girlfriend. He is also able to support her while she walks down a steep staircase. Petersburg helps Smirnova’s female protagonist to finally meet her love as she walks her dog. In all of the novellas, the city serves as an active and benevolent participant in the protagonists’ lives rather than as a controlling or regulating structure representing the state. With this shift, the directors overcome the dominance of the imperial perspective and foreground the importance of the present life over the past.

petersburg-utroReworking the flâneur figure, the directors depict the tightest and most interesting horizontal connections in city life through only female family relationships. Litvinova, Parmas, and Nazarova draw their audiences’ attention to the contemporary family structure, in which the male figure is absent. As they lack a patriarch, the families also appear as horizontal structures, in which daughters have the same level of power as mothers and can be equal partners. This horizontal family structure serves as an opposition to the imperial patriarchal vertical structure that Russo-Soviet cinema favored for many decades. Contemporary Petersburg city life supports single mothers or female-only families as it provides them with many opportunities to earn money with their talents and intellectual skills and to be independent. Moreover, the multiplicity of female-only families in the film offers a situation in which this construction appears as a new norm, not as a violation of an old one.

petersburg-vygulDescribing the everyday life of people in Petersburg, the directors simultaneously make a political statement, drawing their audience’s attention to contemporaneity and to the importance of everyday life as it deals with people’s issues instead of the state’s. With this internal and intimate perspective on city life, the directors place the individual at the center of that life, rather than the state.  With the very focus on Saint Petersburg, the former capital of Russia, these female directors question the imperial space construction based on the opposition of the metropolis and its provinces. They suggest focusing on a more diverse picture of interrelated personal places, which reflect current life but not the past, ideal, imperial image of the city.

Olga Mukhortova
University of Pittsburgh

 

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Works Cited

Baudelaire, Charles. 1964. “The Painter of Modern Life.” The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. 1–40.

Fedina, Anna. 2005. “Kira Muratova: ‘Ia khotela sniat’ potselui, kororyi mne ponravitsia.” Izvestiia 8 April.


Almanac film Petersburg: Only for Love, Russia, 2016
Color, 106 minutes
Producers: Sergei Sel'ianov, Eduard Pichugin, Natal’ia Drozd, Natal’ia Smirnova
Production Company: CTB, Lenfilm, Globus Film

Iosif’s Dreams (Sny Iosifa)
Director: Renata Litvinova
Script: Renata Litvinova
DoP: Oleg Lukichev
Production Design: Anastasiia Karimullina
Cast: Renata Litvinova, Iana Sekste, Sof’ia Ernst, Ul’iana Dobrovskaia, Vasilii Gorchakov, Maksim Vitorgan, Frol Burimskii, Liubov’ Inzhinevskaia, Sergei Davydov, Mariia-Luiza Bondi-Bishofsberger, Rimma Korosteleva

The Girls (Devochki)
Director: Anna Parmas
Script: Anna Parmas
DoP: Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev
Production Design: Anastasiia Karimullina
Cast: Nadezhda Markina, Svetlana Kamynina, Fedor Lavrov, Al’bina Tikhanova

Anichkov Bridge (Anichkov Most)
Director: Natal’ia Kudriashova
Script: Rafat Samigullin and Natal’ia Kudriashova
DoP: Eduard Moshkovich
Cast: Polina Kutepova, Geral’d Oger

Selfie (Selfi)
Director: Aksin’ia Gog
Script: Aksin’ia Gog
DoP: Kseniia Sereda
Production Design: Ol’ga Khlebnikova
Cast: Anastasiia Pronina, Nikita Smol’ianinov, Erik Keniia, Arkadii Koval’, Ibragim Ismailov

Just a Concert (Prosto kontsert)
Director: Natal’ia Nazarova
Script: Natal’ia Nazarova and Valentina Prigodina
DoP: Kirill Bobrov
Cast: Anna Ukolova, Mariia Urosova, Lidiia Dorotenko, Natal’ia Shcherbakova, Vadim Pchelkin, Vadim Shabel’nikov

Morning (Utro)
Director: Oksana Bychkova
Script: Oksana Bychkova
DoP: Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev
Cast: Nadezhda Lumpova, Aleksandr Pal’, Ivan Lebedev, Irina Sokolova, Anatolii Druzenko

Dog Walking (Vygul sobak)
Director: Avdot’ia Smirnova
Script: Avdot'ia Smirnova
DoP: Maksim Osadchii
Cast: Anna Mikhalkova, Gennadii Smirnov, Mikhail Boiarskii, Sergei Umanov, Ol’ga Al’banova, Evgenii Karpov

 

Oksana Bychkova, Aksin’ia Gog, Natal’ia Kudriashova, Renata Litvinova, Natal’ia Nazarova, Anna Parmas, Avdot’ia Smirnova: Petersburg: Only for Love (Peterburg. Tol'ko po liubvi, 2016)

reviewed by Olga Mukhortova© 2017

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