Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sergey Ursuliak: Long Farewell - Долгое прощание (2004)

Director: Sergei Ursulyak
Writers: Yuri Trifonov (novel), Sergei Ursulyak,
Stars: Polina Agureyeva, Andrei Schchennikov, Boris Kamorzin

Awards :
Best actress Polina AGREYEVA , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Russia, 2004
Best actress Polina AGREYEVA , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Boris KAMORZIN , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Prize Miron CHERNEKO Sergey URSULIAK , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Best directing Festival Russian kino 'Moscow Premier Screenings', Russia, 2004
Best actress Polina AGREYEVA , Festival Russian kino 'Moscow Premier Screenings', Russia, 2004

Sergei Ursuliak (1958- ) describes himself as a “retro-director” [retro-rezhisser]. Indeed, his earlier work—of which the best-known are Russian Ragtime [Russkii regtaim, 1993], Summer People [Letnie liudi, 1995], Composition for Victory Day [Sochinenie ko Dniu Pobedy, 1998]—repeatedly turns to the thematics of the era gone by. A graduate of Moscow’s prestigious Shchukin Theatrical Institute (1975-79), where he studied acting with Evgenii Simonov, Ursuliak became affiliated with the Satirikon theatre for more than a decade (1979-91), then turned away from acting to begin the profession that—in retrospect—he had always wanted to pursue.

This biographical detail oddly replicates a core concern of Ursuliak’s most recent film, the melodrama Long Farewell, based on Iurii Trifonov’s 1971 novella, the third of the latter’s Moscow trilogy. The patterns and aspirations of human experience over a lifetime, their inaccessibility and resistance to preliminary stocktaking, if I may cite another of Trifonov’s titles [1], leave the characters of both the writer’s novellas and Ursuliak’s film in a state of permanent suspension.

A young actress at the Moscow Drama Theatre, Lialia Telepneva (Polina Agureeva), makes a career for herself that leads to a love triangle involving her common-law husband—the intelligent, but unproductive historian-writer Grisha Rebrov (Andrei Shchennikov)—and a mediocre, but increasingly successful, older playwright Nikolai Smolianov (Boris Kamorzin). For the viewer unfamiliar with Trifonov’s work, it would appear at first as if this were Telepneva’s story. As the film develops, it increasingly becomes the story of Grisha Rebrov’s emancipation. And finally it becomes—“all along,” as it were—a story about the unreliability of any preliminary appraisals in life. [2] Lialia breaks off her relationship with the playwright Smolianov; Grisha leaves her (and Moscow) for a new life, and a disjuncture of twenty-odd years finds them passing in the street without recognizing each other. [3] By now, Lialia—Liudmila Petrovna—has been forcibly retired from the theatre; she is a middle-aged ex-actress with a husband and son. Her life resembles that of her mother, Irina Ignat'evna, with its queues, domestic gossip, and materialistic pragmatism. Grisha Rebrov has become a successful scriptwriter, a fate that in some respects echoes one stage of Trifonov’s own career. [4] Life had rendered this couple unrecognizable to each other, or perhaps they had never recognized each other from the outset.

In this respect, Ursuliak aptly captures Trifonov’s interest in change both through time and through layers of psychological depth, these two categories being consistently interwoven in Trifonov’s work. Ursuliak likewise shares Trifonov’s curiosity about the ways in which—organically, without any discernible change—humans and the sites they inhabit are inevitably rendered foreign to the eye. The city of Moscow, in this manner, becomes a global metaphor for the human psyche over time: where, in earlier years, a rich variety of dahlias were tended in greenhouses, advanced pragmatism dictates that high-rise apartment buildings will be planted. As in Trifonov’s work, Ursuliak’s film is uninterested in the political events of his 1952 setting. [5] Their common focus instead is the flow of time. For this task, Lialia and Grisha are a perfect couple: she has an extended, live-in family, but no history; Grisha has no one left in the world, yet he is a historian, moreover, a historian with a deep and nuanced memory of his own family history. Accused by his rival Smolianov of having no roots [pochva], Grisha refutes this implicit ethnic slur with his own civic account of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary roots: a Polish grandmother exiled to Siberia; a serf great-grandfather; a St. Petersburg music teacher; a young rebel-student, expelled from the tsarist-era university for political activities; a kantonist [6]; a Civil War veteran, and so forth—an honorable catalogue of resistance to imperial rule.

Reviewed by Nancy Condee©2005 in KinoKultura

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