Saturday, 9 April 2011

Vladimir Menshov: Moscow Does not Believe in Tears - Москва слезам не верит (1979)

Directed by Vladimir Menshov.
Starring Vera Alentova, Irina Muravyova, Aleksey Batalov.

The Oscar® winner for 1980’s Best Foreign Language Film is a sprawling, unabashedly sentimental but ultimately moving chronicle of three women from 1958 until the late ’70s.

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, while admired and praised today, has taken a meandering route toward contemporary critical acclaim. The film, which won the 1981 Oscar ® for Best Foreign Language Film, originated from a modest script written by Valentin Chernyk for submission to a screenwriting contest. The film’s production budget was modest to say the least. Many of production crew members consider Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears to be the best work of their careers. Chernykh suggests that the film catalyzed both his reputation as a renowned scriptwriter and Vladimir Menshov’s reputation as a burgeoning directorial talent.

Many of the crew’s principal players either considered turning down the project, or were nearly prohibited from working on the project. Director Menshov recollects that actor Aleksey Batalov, who played the role of Gosha, initially disliked the script and declined the offer of the part. However, after a night of reasoned consideration, he changed his mind and joined the cast. Vera Alentova, who played the role of Katerina, was not originally considered for a role in the film. Menshov notes that they had asked several other actresses, such as Irina Kupchenko and Margarita Terhova to play the part. He notes, in hindsight, what a fortunate turn of fate it was for the production that Kupchenko ultimately turned down the role. Had she accepted, the film going public would have been denied Alentova’s incandescent performance as Katerina.

Chernykh laughingly reflects upon the humorous and implausible circumstances under which Menshov became a film director. The director began his career in the film industry as an actor. As an actor, Menshov had starred in two films scripted by Chernykh. During on-set interviews, Menshov responded to compliments on his performance with the quip that he was really a director. Eventually Menshov managed to convince the industry movers and shakers to give him a shot at directing.

Some of the central elements of Moscow’s plotline came from Chernykh’s real-life interactions with friends and lovers. He recalls that the narrative conceit of several young women masquerading as wealthy intellectuals in order to find a higher caliber of eligible men sprung from a chance acquaintance he had with a woman whom he met through his girlfriend. Apparently Chernykh’s girlfriend’s family had a maid who had been dating a hockey player. The maid, however, had deliberately misled the hockey player into believing that she was the daughter of a powerful editor. She had even managed to get her employer, the girlfriend’s father, to pretend to be her editor father in the presence of the hockey player boyfriend. With a bit of tweaking and some name changes Chernykh used the same scenario in his script for Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.

The crew faced numerous obstacles during production. One particular scene featured a cameo appearance by the film star Innokenti Smoktunovsky. Each successive attempt to shoot the scene was hampered by inclement weather. One night it would be raining on set, the next it would be too windy, and the following day it would snow. Still, Menshov insisted that they complete the scene because Smoktunovsky “was a legend at that time, and he remains one [today]… back in 1978, what he meant for viewers…defies any description.” Eventually, despite all of the problems posed by nature’s whims, the crew managed to shoot the scene and finish production on schedule.

The film’s eventual success came as a surprise to most of the production staff considering the miniscule budget they had to work with and the frequent obstacles they met with during the production process. Menshov describes the crew’s collective insecurities, “There were masterpieces being made on movie sets next to ours. Tarkovsky and Abdrashitov in the neighboring pavilions and Mikhalov too. They are this big, and us – making just a philistine melodrama, some sob story.” And yet, their “sob story” turned out to be an Oscar ® winning “masterpiece.” ...

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