Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gennadi Sidorov: Old Women - Старухи (2003)

Director: Gennadi Sidorov
Writer: Gennadi Sidorov
Stars: Valentina Berezutskaya, Tamara Klimova, Anastasia Lyubimova

6 wins & 6 nominations

A family of refugees from Central Asia arrives in a down-and-out Russian village, with no electricity, populated only by old women and a single man with Down's syndrome. The refugees aren't welcome. Someone sets fire to their house. The women, realizing the barbarity of the action, rush to extinguish the fire. Hatred gradually turns into pity, pity into understanding, and understanding into cordiality. The refugee family, for their part, do everything they can to show their willingness, the proof of which will be the construction of an electricity power station… A comedy that is a hymn to cultural tolerance. These hard-drinking, foul-mouthed crones convey Sidorov's view of the Russian soul - its deep-seated racism as well as its underlying wisdom and ability to endure. ...

A tough bunch of peasant women in a remote Russian village finds a family of Central Asian refugees on their doorstep in Gennady Sidorov's slow-starting but ultimately rewarding comedy "Old Women." Besides getting a laugh, these hard-drinking, foul-mouthed crones convey Sidorov's view of the Russian soul -- its deep-seated racism as well as its underlying wisdom and ability to endure. With a more fetching title, this hymn to cultural tolerance should be able to find its niche with international auds. It received top honors at the recent national Russian film fest in Sochi.

In a ramshackle, patched-together village without electricity live a dozen old ladies and Mikolka (Sergei Makarov), a cowherd with Down syndrome. Tale begins with the dignified but unsentimental funeral of one of their number. An army tank rolls by, commanded by a friendly captain (Sidorov) who has sent his soldiers to dig the grave in exchange for some local moonshine. Later, in the film's best gag, he does the women the favor of shelling an abandoned house they want to use as firewood.

Apart from these rare visitors, the villagers are totally isolated. More is their dismay when a family of Tadjiks fleeing war is unloaded in town and told to make the best of it. While the bearded old grandfather is immediately taken in by one designing lady, the young husband, his pregnant wife and two daughters convert the farmhouse they've been assigned into a comfy Oriental den. They immediately arouse suspicion and distrust. Underlining their extraneity to the village, their speech is never translated in the subtitles. The old man's prayers also irk the Orthodox village ladies. In a moment of mindless hostility, they curse the "Muslim invaders" in front of Mikolka. The next day he silently carries out their expressed wish to burn the strangers' house down.

The conflagration that follows marks a turning point in the film. Horrified by what they've done, the women band together to help the family make a fresh start. Meanwhile, they hide a young soldier who's gone AWOL after a fling with the captain's wife. Their cynical outlook on life humorously contrasts with the kind-hearted instincts they seem unable to repress. ...

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