Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Kira Muratova: Asthenic Syndrome - Астенический синдром (1989)

Directed by Kira Muratova.
Starring Olga Antonova, Sergei Popov, Galina Zakhurdayeva.

Breaking all the usual rules of storytelling, The Asthenic Syndrome identifies two debilitating forms of behavior in the world today--extreme aggressiveness and extreme passivity. Written and directed by the most celebrated living Russian woman filmmaker, it was the only Russian film to have been banned by the Soviet government during Perestroika.

Read: Kira Muratova: The Asthenic Syndrome

Visit: Giuviv Russian Film Blog

Of all the great Soviet film directors, Kira Muratova is considered to be the most esoteric. Not because she is a woman or that her themes do not include mysticism, something that many western critics associate with Russian "art" cinema (though Muratova isn't really Russian, being born in Romania and living in Ukraine). The esoterica comes from the fact that though her films deal with universal themes, Muratova concentrates on the landscapes and characters that are unique products of soviet life, and her films belong exclusively to them. In focusing on the world of Soviet byt, the Soviet quotidian or 'way of life', her films are close to Socialist Realism cinema; but while films of directors like Yuri Chulyukin and Ivan Lukinsky romanticised and poeticised Soviet reality, Muratova's vision of it is ugly, cruel, and absurd – but necessary.

When post-glasnost Soviet cinema experienced the new wave of chernukha ("bleak cinema") Muratova's films were still radically different, because themes of ugliness, cruelty and absurdity were reflected in their formal cinematic style, rather than just in content. Ugliness has been a longtime obsession for her, but unlike other ugliness-obsessed directors like Peter Greenaway and Lina Wertmuller, Muratova refuses to stylise it. Mutilated bodies of people and animals, unattractive nude bodies, people with unusual physical appearances and the mentally handicapped, are all exposed in her films without any attempt to soften the impact of what you see, challenging the audience to forget their usual definitions of beauty and accept these images on their own terms. What keeps Muratova's films from becoming freak-shows is that she doesn't contrast ugly images with beautiful ones, she doesn't associate them with something negative, and her attitude is never condescending. On the contrary, even more "normal" looking actors are usually made-up and dressed in a way that makes them look less attractive.

Even though at times Muratova can be harsh to her actors, she is crueler in many more ways to her audience. The viewer is constantly subjected to visual and audio abuse from the screen. The same phrases and actions are repeated over and over; people speak in a high pitched tone of voice, often laughing annoyingly without reason; characters suddenly burst out with physical and verbal violence; speeches are delivered alternatively bullet-fast and excruciatingly slow. Finally, absurdity is Muratova's best known trademark. The storylines of her films are almost surreal, people perform bizarre actions without motivation, the acting is often hammy, and serious situations are interrupted with absurd humour.

In the world of cinema Muratova isn't a critical darling. She conforms neither to the clean and sterile cinema of observation nor to the cynical cinema of shocking sensationalism. Her worldview alternates between extreme nihilism and extreme humanism. Her directing style is schizophrenic. At times her scenes move very smoothly with nice transitions, color coordination and hypnotic camera movements. Then suddenly they might change to an explosion of colour, choppy editing, and amateurish camera work. At times Muratova seems to be in control of the film, following one character, telling the story very cohesively, and at times she seems to lose control of the film completely, jumping from storyline to storyline, from character to character, often leaving narrative threads suspended whilst starting new ones in the middle of a film. ...

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