Little Vera has caused international tremors like no Soviet film in recent memory. Is it the explosive political content? The glasnost-inspired openness? Or could it have something to do with the fact that the leading lady sheds her clothes to a degree unprecedented in a Soviet-made movie?
It is all of these things, but the nude scenes have helped Little Vera attain an unusually high profile, both here and in the Soviet Union, where it has been a huge commercial success. Soviet films of recent decades have been so dull and academic that the candid Little Vera looks stunning by comparison.
But it would be silly to suggest that the sex scenes, tame by our standards, are the only unusual element here. As the star of the film, Natalya Negoda, recently said, “Soviet audiences were shocked not just because of the nude scenes but because they were given a possibility to observe their own lives.” There is a level of kitchen-sink realism here, an acknowledgment of problems and bitterness that is almost unheard-of in the Soviet cinema.
Negoda plays Vera, a bored, vulgar, lively young woman who lives with her parents in a crushingly industrialized seaport town. The film follows her through her prickly relations with her parents (the father is alcoholic, the mother worn down) and her affair with a young man (Andrei Sokolov).
The movie, especially in its first hour, vividly captures the dead-end nature of this existence. Vera, given stunning life by Negoda (whose appearance in the May issue of Playboy has given new meaning to glasnost), is a livewire trying to set off sparks under unhappy conditions.
The filmmakers are a husband-and-wife team: Vasily Pichul (director) and Maria Khmelik (writer). They bring a great deal of grungy veracity to the situations in the film, although the grittiness becomes a bit overwhelming by the end.
Would the film be receiving as much attention if it had been made in another country? Probably not. But there does seem to be new, important ground being broken here. When Vera and her boyfriend lie together on the beach, he asks her what her goals are. She flashes him a look and says, “We have a common goal: Communism.” It’s meant as a joke. That’s new ground.
First published in the Herald, April 30, 1989
Not that all Russian films were dull, but we’re talking in general here. The movie does seem to have been more of a novelty than a work of cinematic art, but it was necessary at a moment when a giant culture was teetering on the brink. At the time Negoda made many balalaikas ring out, but she has done fewer than a dozen pictures in her career.