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Kira Muratova: Minor People (Vtorostepennye liudi, 2001)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers ©2001

Muratova’s film explores the theme of death: in the first scene of the film, we see a doctor attending to a critically ill patient. The reaction of the dying man’s wife sets the tone for Muratova’s approach to text, which functions as a musical accompaniment rather than a conveyor of meaning. The wife reads to the doctor the definition of the terms ‘coma’ and ‘agony’ (his diagnosis) from an encyclopedia. The doctor hardly needs a reminder of the meaning of medical terms, nor does the wife need to know the exact differences between the terms: her response elicits the meaninglessness of text when it comes to issues like death.

The doctor is then called by another women, Vera: here, he encounters a man (whom she accuses of beating her), who falls onto the floor as he prepares to beat up the ‘intruder’, and lies there motionless. Vera and the doctor try to dispose of the body, and eventually pack it into a suitcase, which Vera deposits at the left luggage counter of the local railway stations after a series of farcical situations. In the meantime, the twin brother of the dead man drives his boss (a gangster) through the countryside, and refuses to kill the militiaman who is tied up in the boot of the car. When the boot is opened, the policeman has died. The real death of a character whose biography has been given in the previous conversation passes almost as a marginal note. In the meantime, the case with the dead body is retrieved from the luggage hold at the railway station, and when opened, the man is found to be still alive. Throughout the entire film the spectator follows the wrong character: the man about whom we know absolutely nothing other than that he is violent toward Vera, rather than the policeman, who actually dies. Muratova misleads the spectator, making a pertinent comment on the futile concept of death.

Her film is beautifully filmed, with every detail of the set chosen with great care to offer comments and contrasts, and to remove the setting from reality. Vera lives in a house, which is still much of a building site; it is owned by the gangster, who is an art collector. The empty house is filled with antique sculptures and paintings. For example, the scene when Vera stands in the house, biting her nails, realising that her friend is dead, she is placed against the backdrop of a canvas of Liotard’s Chocolate Girl. Similarly, the retarded boy Misha, who helps Vera carry the case with the dead body, is a collector of objects: his collection of keys, stamps, and enveloped constitutes his life, and eventually forms the format for the presentation of the titles: they are snippets in his album. The performances of Philippe Panov (the boy Misha) and that of the mime (and singer) Natasha Buzko are stunning.

Kira Muratova: Minor People (Vtorostepennye liudi, 2001)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers ©2001

02/03