Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Different Fortunes (Разные судьбы /Raznye Sudby, USSR 1957)

Sorry Tsars and Tsarinas, St. Petersburg never looked better than this.
So, I'm finally going to write about a film I've been throwing out teasers about for months--Different Fates or Different Fortunes--a Soviet film from 1957 with all the right moves and none of the subtitles.

A qualifier, before I begin. I have recently considered trying to take up Russian again . . . just so I can better understand this film. If that doesn't convince you of the film's merits, I don't know what will. However, Hindi/Urdu is about all I can handle at the moment, so I must not be greedy/I must not be greedy/I must not be greedy (repeat ad infinitum). For now, I choose to be content with the dreamy, earthy beauty of the story as it currently is available to me. As I have learned elsewhere, sometimes subtitles ruin a perfectly good visual experience anyway, so maybe I'm actually better off.


























If you don't believe me, at least trust Bert this friendly cabby. He knows whot's doing. 

Because, don't kid yourself, even though you've probably never heard of it . . . this film is heartache-ingly good (whether or not you know what they're saying) and what you don't understand with your mind you will feel deep in your gut and far past your dazzled eyes.


I can honestly say I've never before seen such "beautiful" industrial complexes in my life. This screen-cap does not do them justice. Talk about slick propaganda.

Basically, this film chronicles the trials and travails of four former schoolmates, who have seemingly just graduated and have found placements in different jobs across Russia. Look here for the very telling and subtitled (score!) version of one of the foundational scenes. Not only do the classmates' paths diverge, but they also choose very different moral paths (how ironic!). 


























Tanya and Stefan, the boy who she can't/won't love.

For better or for worse, Tanya (Tatyana Piletskaya) is at the center of this little group, seemingly by virtue of being the object of everyone else's desires (or jealousies, in the case of the other wistful female lead, Sonja, played by Tatyana Konyukhova).


























Sonja, watching Tanya fritter away the evening with the boy she loves.

One immediately realizes that although Tanya is certainly spoiled and narcissistic, yes . . . she is also clearly quite bright . . . and appears to be taking advanced studies, judging by all the books cluttering up her family apartment and her bed.


But the plot thickens, as the writers add a handful of hearts and stir to get that perfect, melodramatic consistency. Everyone here seems to be in love with someone who isn't in love with them. Mild-mannered Stefan (Georgi Yumatov) loves Tanya, but despite feeling flattered, she doesn't return his affection. Tanya is more interested in Fyodor (Yulian Panich), a wry-faced fellow with a strong presence . . . who looks like a grown up version of one of the Dead End Kids.



Of course, as soon as Stefan realizes that he isn't wanted/needed, he runs off to take a factory manager position in Siberia. Well, you know what they say, Siberia is the place you go to be purged of all those inconvenient, volatile, and socially unacceptable passions.



Like a hopefully puppy, Sonja follows Stefan into the circles of the Arctic. They also say that the pickins are slim in Siberia, so perhaps this woman has got her math right, after all.

Back in St. Petersburg, since she's not one for wasting time, Tanya quickly gets hitched to Fyodor.



But it's clear that they have issues. Not only do they seem to live adjacent to her parents, and not only does Fyodor have to take a cabby job to make ends meet to put Tanya through school (horrors!) but Tanya doesn't seem to to know how to take the proper attitude towards it all. Instead of acting like a meek, good little student . . . Tanya flits about, like a moth between flames, one moment acting the part of dutiful daughter, the next throwing out some sarcastic remark with a mocking laugh; as if she were a goddess thoroughly aware of her own status and unafraid of any challenges to her throne. In fact, according to one [albeit translated] synopsis, it seems that she also embarks upon an affair with a professor . . . which leaves her husband none too happy.


Not sure how I missed the affair, but perhaps the censorship board got to it, and it was only alluded via dialogue. I loved the brooding shots to accompany the marital quarrels, either way. 

Cue many scenes with her kinda sweet family acting worried for her, worried about her marriage, worried about the way she acts with her husband (for all I know, she really could be saying/doing some horrible stuff).



However misguided though, one can't help but be impressed at the way Tanya keeps walking by her wild lone, like the cat in Kipling's story.


In the mean time,  Stefan has been moving up the ranks at the industrial plant, and Sonja makes some headway towards finally getting some.


In fact, as far as I could tell, Sonja seemed to be the real initiator here, despite her demonstrably meek ways around other women and her family. She also looks great no matter what, and IN no matter what . . . a trait future directors seemed to notice, as she ended up in more than a few high profile film roles after this.


























Tanya, looking like the wrath of Hera in some deleted scene from Xena, TWP. And, wouldn't it be ironic if Hera was the one who cheated on Zeus, for once? 

Cutting back to Fyodor and Tanya, and the marriage has finally crumbled. They seem to get a very public and messy divorce . . . followed by Fyodor seeming to fall very ill. I think he might die, too, I'm not sure.  (Could this turn of events be any more Russian? I ask you.)



Stefan and Sonja must also face their own demons. Not sure what/who those demons are . . . but the scenes were very moving, nonetheless.


In the end, one thing is quite clear, with or without knowledge of Russian. If bad girls will be bad, bad things will happen to them, and worst of all they will be left alone to live with their own misdeeds and the large black circles under their eyes. "Leave her to heaven" and all that. Well, at least Tanya has the good sense to keep away from train-tracks.



I'd leave it there . . . hoping you'd be suitably inspired and go off and find this film on youtube. But I can't help but mention that the particular color quality of this film has sent me on more fruitless Internet searches in the last few months than I care to admit. Sure, I have seen several other similarly toned Russian films, but nothing scratches that visual itch the way this film does. This reddish, brownish, sepia tone has me crazy to find other comparable films. . . of which there are precious few. I haven't even found it in my beloved Bollywood, perhaps because I've barely found it outside the 1950's anywhere.

But I am happy to say that today (finally!!!) I think I found the right lead. Maybe I can actually sleep sound, now. It's a process called Sovcolor or Agfacolor.  And to read about that, I'll direct you to my other blog, xenographic mystic . . . where I am choosing to funnel all the pop-culture nonsense from around the world that I've been obsessed with lately. After all, I have to have some sort of mechanism to help Filmi~Contrast remain within the already expanded theme I founded it upon! Check back in a day or two and I'll try to post something condensed there with the rather scattered research I found about this fascinating (and under-documented) world film trend.

Until then, another lovely shot from this film to send you on your way. 


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