Kira Mouratova, the radical beauty of despair


Once again, the La Rochelle Film Festival, whose 47e edition ended Sunday, has shown a great eclecticism through tributes to personalities as diverse as, among others, Charles Boyer and Jim Carrey, Dario Argento and Elia Suleiman, Louis de Funès and Arthur Penn. A selection of nine films by the great Victor Sjöström will have been one of the film's two cinephilic summits, the other being a retrospective devoted to the unknown Ukrainian filmmaker Kira Mouratova, who died last year. La Rochelle screened six films from the first part of his work, Short Meetings (1967), her second feature film which she considered her true first film, at Asthenic syndrome (1989). Six films unlike any other, and this free and unyielding woman realized despite the multiple obstacles of a censorship and a Soviet official press rejected by its formalism and its pessimism. Belonging to the same generation as Tarkovsky, Konchalovsky and Iosseliani, she was indeed one of the most censored filmmakers in the USSR, and it was not until the late 1980s and perestroika that her work was again visible and discovered. In Occident.


From simple frames, Mouratova follows each time the wanderings or wanderings of characters affected by a separation, a mourning, or driven by the need to cast off. If the background is melancholy, the darkness is always balanced by a vitality, a grace and a unique humor. In Short MeetingsShe interprets a provincial municipal official who is facing corruption while living a tortuous love affair with a fickle young man played by the legendary singer Vladimir Vysotsky. In a complex construction, enamelled with flashback, the man appears only through the memories of the two women who love him. The jumps in time can operate in the same plane, without one always knowing well disentangle the past of the present. Immersed in this elaborate composition, the viewer has the freedom to reconstruct a story that is offered to him in a subjective and fragmented form, as a collection of sensations and emotions.

The following film will extend this form to the sublime. In Long Farewells (1971), one follows for one day a possessive mother and her teenage son, whom she raised alone but who wishes to leave to live with her father. Here again, the reality lived by a woman and the idealized image of a distant man are confronted. In the reduced time of action, each gesture, each look, each sensation, constitutes an event, magnified by an extraordinary art of the frame (or decading), dizzying sequences and a montage of a musical beauty. This masterpiece will simply be banned by censorship.

But, far from leading it to conformism, its setbacks on the contrary push Muratova to radicalize even more. After unsuccessful projects, she manages to realize the beautiful Discovering the vast world (1978) far from the studios of Odessa. Centered on a woman divided between two men, the action of this proletarian and muddy love triangle unfolds around a vast construction site that echoes the apparent disorder of a very free and inventive form. Drawing again a portrait of the USSR through intimate adventures, Mouratova deploys more than ever his taste for dissonances, repetitions of plans, decadrings, sound breaks. Again censored, this time by some cuts, the filmmaker must abandon several projects before achieving Among the gray stones, the film for which it will confront the most with the studio that produces it, until it is sent back. We do not understand what was bothering us in this film located in Polande century, where a little bourgeois boy, who has just lost his mother, befriends a very poor child, living with his family in the basement of a church in ruins. Here again, the intimate and social intersect: through two bereavements (his mother, then the sister of his comrade), the boy weaves a link between two layers of society totally distant. This film, more wobbly than the previous ones, remains unforgettable images, like that of a little girl dying beside a doll larger than her – the child's eyes close slowly while those of the toy remain coldly open and impassive.


At the end of the 1980s, after years of stubborn fighting, Muratova's horizon began to coincide with that of the Soviet Union: "Perestroika has arrived. Everything changed. My films were asked everywhere, and I was able to realize Change of destiny. " Based on a short story by Somerset Maugham, this 1987 film evokes a criminal act committed by a woman whose uncertain motive reveals a psychological and social chaos that again translates a very arrhythmic and shocked form. As its title indicates, Asthenic syndrome will go even further in the description of a society destructured from all sides. Two stories of depression are juxtaposed: a desperate woman doctor after the death of her husband and a teacher who lost the taste for life. Or two individuals representing social responsibilities that they can no longer hold. It's the filmmaker's darkest film, but again, his formal invention and his humor are saving him from complacency.

While, from here, she seemed to have disappeared in the mid-1990s, Mouratova did not stop making films until practically her death. Nine feature films followed Asthenic syndrome, none of which – with the exception of Militant in love (1992) – did not come out in France. The six films that were shown in La Rochelle furiously want to know more. Good news: it will be possible very soon since the Cinémathèque française will dedicate a retrospective from September 25 to October 20, while five of his films will be released in theaters from October 2.

Marcos Uzal special envoy to La Rochelle

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