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Gennadii Sidorov: Old Little Ladies (Starukhi) (2003)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers ©2003

 

Gennadii Sidorov's Old Little Ladies (Starukhi) is a debut film. Sidorov, like Lidiia Bobrova for Babusia, has chosen non-professional actors. The events of his film also unfold in the provinces; the film as shot near Kostroma, and accordingly the old woman come from there. Into the small village where the women and a village fool live, a family of refugees from Uzbekistan arrive. But they speak Tadjik, as the director invited Tadjik actors. The film investigates the relationships between the former empire and its colonies in a paradoxical fashion: if in Soviet times civilization spread from the centre to the periphery, now the Central Asian refugees develop the Russian provinces, erecting a small power station (a symbol of progress) to supply the village with electricity.

Sidorov connects the documentary images with components of feature film, and here disrupts his own principle. The accuracy of the documentary narration is juxtaposed to and contradicted by acted episodes. The refugees are themselves alien to the Russian environment. There is a contradiction between the existence of the real old women and the artistic characters created by the actors and the director’s imagination. And where the episodes of authentic conduct and acting are joined, the seams are visible; and it is through these ‘stitches’ of the seams that the film loses.

The spectator laughs at the absurd life shown by the director and the genuine Russian peasant women. The events of the film take a tragic turn, when the village fool, played by an actor who suffers from Down syndrome, burns the house in which the immigrants had settled, depriving them of the opportunity to form roots. But there are also scenes in the film that have a comic resonance. Like concert numbers, they are constructed on the collision of the habitual ordinary life and high poetry. The old ladies in their shabby clothes remember their lives in the iambic form of Pushkin’s Onegin. The irony and humour of these scenes are clear in Russian, and for a Russian audience. But the western spectator will hardly understand the pun and the irony that lies in the intonation, in a semantic game that cannot be rendered by another language.

Starukhi is a very Russian film, addressed to the domestic spectator rather than an international audience. It is also rather disturbing to see the audience forget about the tragic dimension that underlies the film’s plot.


Gennadii Sidorov: Old Little Ladies (Starukhi) (2003)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers ©2003

18/07/03