Friday, 16 November 2012
Renata Litvinova: Actress and Persona
t is unlikely that Renata Litvinova in her youth was troubled by the idea expressed at the beginning of the 20th century by Aleksandr Kugel', a literature and theater critic, that “an actor's personality is more important than the roles he plays.” Litvinova's multifaceted talents—literary and cinematic—revealed themselves during those complex years when the very concept of “personality” had lost its original meaning. Those years began with the period of perestroika, when first Soviet and then Russian filmmakers started to prefer “biographies reduced to appearances,” Sergei Eisenstein used to say; when the struggle against realistic and psychological representations of human personality on-screen was first started and then resolutely won; when the representation of personality yielded to a demonstration of typological givens and acquired the traits of the aesthetics of a masquerade. And those years, which brought massive harm to domestic filmmaking, in a strange way coincided with Litvinova's presentations of herself or, more accurately, of how she wanted to see herself.
There have been classic moments in various periods of the history of world cinema, when directors—seeing the concealed possibilities in someone—took on the role of Pygmalions or other great sculptors, chipping away from “blocks of stone” everything that was extraneous, creating new standards of human and artistic specimens who became known as film stars. So it was with Greta Garbo, with Bette Davis, with many of Fellini's heroines, to whose “raw material” he gave character, appearance, and style. I'm not sure about feelings and ideas, but in terms of face, figure, and clothing, the director's advice was an act of creating a new personality. In just this way, Georgii Tovstonogov discovered in Tat'iana Doronina an actress with a unique intonation, with a special slowed-down plasticity, with an expressivity that he either perceived in her natural being or he subordinated or that was completely hidden in her, but all of which the actress subsequently retained in her successful roles.
Litvinova made herself. She made herself counter to existing templates or even their absence, counter to viewers' expectations, counter to—so it would seem—those possibilities that nature had given her. She emerged from the absolute necessity to participate in mass masquerades, sharply differentiating herself from all social brands. From her very first role, she was less an assembled than an exceptional phenomenon.
Beautiful, feminine, refined, fantastical, she could have remained simply a living artifact, a disposable phenomenon for exclusive use in cinema. But her meeting with Kira Muratova proved to be a genuinely Great Event. The director saw not only the actress' fantasticality and beauty, but most of all her otherness, her absence of grounding in reality, her breathing foreignness, which set apart the invented from the living, the artificial from the fleshly. But even before her meeting with Muratova, in Dislike (Neliubov' ; dir. Valerii Rubinchik, 1991), which was based on her own script and which became an insightful assertion of her on-screen biography, the thirty-four-year-old actress revealed in part her understanding of the goal of her search for the self. In Dislike, the heroine endlessly looks at photographs, newsreels, and films featuring the American star Marilyn Monroe. The bewitching cold eroticism; the child-like sense of the world, which, it would seem, preserved forever the beauty of the face and figure, virtually unsusceptible to the aging process; the eternal infantilism attracted everyone able to perceive the harmony of form. Perhaps it was this prompt that gave Muratova the “foundation” for cultivating the on-screen personality of the actress, although this is unlikely. The prompt for Muratova was in discovering the personality's motivations, in imparting a special meaning to the Litvinova phenomenon.
For some reason the title of Eisenstein's article, “However Odd—Khokhlova!,” comes to mind. This great actress' star appeared on the horizon at a time when filmmakers were seeking their own road, which included every conceivable bounty—from the aspiration to create a new world on-screen to all of the forms inherent in the art of acting. Khokhlova had no equals in this game. The director Lev Kuleshov granted her inconceivable freedom because he knew about the law inherent in an actor's soul; he recognized the cultural basis of personality, which precisely grasped the permissible boundaries of its own eccentric nature. For this reason, what Khokhlova accomplished remains in the history of culture as an unsurpassed example of the great Russian tradition, which runs from Gogol' and which not only tried on but also incarnated literary, theatrical, and artistic cherished traits of a national Type…
Litvinova started as a Don Quixote. Even in her very earliest films, shot on the basis of her scripts—Dislike and A Principled and Sympathetic Gaze (Printsipial'nyi i zhalostlivyi vzgliad; dir. Aleksandr Sukhochev, 1995)—Litvinova brought to the screen an image that was so unusual that it elicited consternation, bordering on irritation. Her heroines, located in a realistic space, experience every conceivable assault on their personality—the most important of which is the impossibility of love. In uncovering the absence of love—with love serving as the guardian of the meaning of life—her heroines are inevitably condemned specifically to death because of their faith that not only is love possible, but because it is the essential cure.
The theme gradually grew larger and more tragic. Litvinova is the strange outcome of a new reality, which presented itself to her directly, as if without any cinematic context. Is this accurate? After all, what has accumulated in her are the many plots and images that appeared on screen as part of the clash between the experiments of human and type-cast actors. Yet, in spite of all of the long-established rules of filmmaking, she embodied a special substance of being—cosmic loneliness, an independence from moral norms, a peculiar amazement with what she encounters in contemporary reality, and a boundless indifference to prescribed ethical values that are already shaky. Litvinova discovered this personality on her own, without second thoughts and of her own choosing. To be expelled from the real, to become the abstract embodiment of the idea of otherness, to observe what is happening not from within the events themselves, but from a space that is mysterious to people—this was the special goal and special commitment Litvinova made, sensing it and sharpening it in Kira Muratova's artistry.