Korotkie Vstrechi

 (Kira Murotova, USSR, 1967) 97 minutes


Director: Kira Muratova
Production: Odessa Kinostudio
Screenplay: Kira Muratova, Leonid Zhukovitski
Cinematography: Ghenadi Kariuk
Editor: Olga Charkova
Music: Oleg Karavaichuk, Vladimir Vysotski
Nina Ruslanova (Nidya)
Vladimir Vysotsky (Maxim)
Kira Muratova (Valentina)
Lidiya Bazilskaya (Lubka)
Olga Viklandt (Hairdresser)
Aleksey Glazyrin (Semen Semenovich)

Reviews and notes

1987 Pesaro
1991 Wellington
2006 Goteborg
2013 Rotterdam
2022 Leeds, Belfast

Nidya, a gauche, pretty, young country-girl waitressing in a roadside canteen, falls in love with Maxim, an itinerant geologist with the dark flashing eyes and romantic elusiveness of a gypsy. Smitten, she quits the job and follows him to the city. There she finds work as a maid in the home of the intriguing Valentina - who is also in love with Maxim. Muratova explores the intricate triangular relationship of these three striking individuals with clarity, tenderness and irony. As with the lovely solo piano score, every incisive detail registers with a sure, light touch and there are some unexpected, haunting chords. A beautifully organised, associative time-structure heightens the poignancy of the relationship which assumes the least importance to the characters, but takes on the most importance to us: the uneasy contract between Nidya and Valentina... Much of the pointed poignancy of the film lies in our perceiving how much she may in fact owe to that homely world - and vice versa. The cinematography is crisp, beautiful, and for 1967, daringly, but expressively, unconventional. There are brief encounters with a dozen other characters who register with singular vividness. Twenty years on the shelf could not diminish the originality of this exquisite film. It becomes an instant classic.
- Bill Gosden, Wellington Film Festival, 1991

Made in Russian at Odesa Film Studio in the aftermath of de-Stalinization, Kira Muratova’s Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell nonetheless faced censorship for ignoring the precepts of socialist realism. They make for fruitful viewing as a diptych, sharing in certain themes, motifs, and, above all, a rulebook-shredding attitude to cinematic form. Neither overtly criticize Soviet life, yet they smuggle in a discontent that’s detectable less by what they condemn than by what they frame instead: the domestic, the psychological, the interpersonal. What’s surprising isn’t that they got banned, but that Muratova managed to get them made at all. Now especially, watching these two films feels like something of a miracle.

Brief Encounters, from 1967, tells the story of Nadya (Nina Ruslanova), a young woman who leaves her village to work as a housekeeper for Valya (Muratova), committee member to a provincial Odesa district, and her husband, Maksim (Vladimir Vysotsky), an itinerant geologist. Through flashbacks more suggestive than explicit, it’s revealed that Nadya and Maksim previously met during her time working at a teahouse visited by Maksim’s team. Meanwhile, another series of flashbacks dole out the joys and tribulations of Valya’s faltering marriage.

Muratova, though, doesn’t treat the love triangle as a mere scaffold on which to hang the film’s cinematic flourishes. Rather, her impressionism ushers us into the subjective memories and experiences of her female leads — in contrast to Maksim’s pointedly opaque inner landscape.

Still, the film can occasionally feel like a vehicle for promoting Vysotsky, a popular anti-establishment singer-songwriter, somewhat hampering Muratova’s insistence on women’s interiority and agency as a subject worthy of serious examination. More of gypsy-wannabe than geologist, Maksim spends much of Brief Encounters strumming a guitar and singing Vysotsky’s signature songs — even in the midst of spats with Valya — rather than prospecting for rare metals. Despite the intensity of the interpersonal drama at its center, the film strikes a contemplative, summery tone, buoyed by ambient sound effects (a clock ticking, crickets chirping, and so on)...

While Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell tell stories that transcend Soviet conditions even as they comment on them, it’s how Muratova goes about telling them that really got her in trouble, and which sets her apart as a filmmaker. With each flashback in Brief Encounters, Muratova finds novel means of transitioning between past and present, as in a sequence that cuts from Nadya and Valya inspecting a newly built apartment, to a shot of Nadya in close-up as behind her two distant figures stroll along a road. She goes out of focus as the background comes into focus, revealing the figures to be Nadya and her friend Lubka (Lidiya Brazilskaya) in the past, hitchhiking their way toward a new life. It’s as if the camera movement, together with the inversion of background and foreground, has transferred us, gently, inside Nadya’s memory...

Across her films, Muratova derives what can only be described as a synesthetic effect from an audiovisual medium. Her treatment of the camera recalls the cinécriture, or “cinema writing,” of her French New Wave contemporaries (Agnès Varda’s 1958 short L’opéra-Mouffe in particular springs to mind), who sought to find a film equivalent to literary prose style. It’s immediately recognizable and personal, turning narration itself into character without the need for overbearing meta techniques like hyper-referentiality or films-within-films.

Muratova’s intransigent experimentalism should be viewed not just as a rebuke to the Soviet blinkeredness of her own time, but an impetus for today’s filmmakers to reinvigorate cinematic language in ways of their own devising. Even in independent film, which has congealed into more of a genre than a methodology, far too many films fall in step with the prevailing trend for unobtrusive, almost apologetic camerawork and editing, one by one turning the medium into a featureless, impersonal bloc in thrall to market dictates. If what we want is a culture that’s vibrant and not anemic, forward-looking and not mired in nostalgia and cynicism, we can learn from the work of Muratova, who found ways to express herself in almost impossible conditions.
- William Repass, Slant Magazine, 22 August 2023.

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