1981 / USSR /100 min / drama / Mosfilm studio
Director – Gleb Panfilov
Daria Mikhailova – Valentina
Format – 35 mm / DVD
For information about rights for theatrical and DVD distribution – please contact “Vera Films”
The life of those living in a small provincial town of Chulimsk revolves around a small wooden Inn. There works a young girl, called Valentina. To the surprise of the older generation she does not want to leave the small town following the example of her peers. However, her reason for staying is quite simple – Valentina is in love with the inspector Shamanov, a reserved, but charming, man who’d recently settled down in Chulimsk. Despite his affair with the local pharmacist Zina, Valentina finds the courage to declare her love to him. The man, who failed to notice the unique beauty of this young girl before, suddenly realises that she might be the one. Unfortunately Valentina and Shamanov are not meant to be together in this small town where unrequited love and shotgun marriages are quite common. Zina is prepared to fight for Shamanov, and Pavel, who is desperately in love with Valentina, can’t allow her to be with another man. Overwhelmed with feelings of jealousy and possessiveness, he forces himself on Valnetina, thinking that she will have no choice but to marry him. However, Valentina’s pureness and dignity remains intact. She refuses to be with either man.
About the film
While The Theme was still ‘lying on the shelf’, the officials allowed Panfilov to make a film based on the play by Vampilov, entitled ‘Last Summer in Chulimsk’.
Preserving the theatrical unity of time, place and action, and involving a small cast, Panfilov manages to produce a deeply moving universal story. ‘The events take place in 1970’ states the opening intertitle of the film; nonetheless, this story could have happened anywhere and anytime. The following scene is extremely impressive in its capacity to evoke strong emotional response through pure cinematic means – the monochrome images of the night, accompanied be bizarre nocturnal sounds, a piece of metal rod hanging down into the middle of the frame. Making the most of the pure cinematic expression, Panfilov and his cinematographer Kalashnikov successfully evoke an acute sensation of solitude, isolation and helplessness, thereby defining the central motifs of the film.
Valentina’s quiet existence is constituted by two activities – serving meals to the customers, and mending a fence that they break each time they enter the inn. The theme and the image of Valentina fixing the fence becomes a leitmotif of the film. It is a tragicomic symbol of a futile attempt of a single kind soul to improve things. Although, no one appreciates or understands her, she nevertheless believes and hopes that people will soon understand and start taking to correct root to the inn, via a pathway, and not by making a whole in the fence.
The title character of the film is presented as a unique fragile creature, which does not belong to this mundane world. It is although she’d existed in a different dimension, and even the inn, where she work, is separated into two different spatial planes — the veranda and the canteen with the rude and boorish, yet somehow endearing, interactions, and Valentina’s space, where she exists in her own world (listening to the conversation of Shamanov and Zina, or reading). The contrast of these two worlds is further underlined through the visual qualities of the film. The light and the composition created by Kalashnikov in those scenes evoke associations with Vermeerian women, whose delicate images would dissonate with the prosaic landscapes of Chulimsk.
Fragile, endearing and naïve, Valentina evokes admiration rather then sympathy – a great achievement on behalf of the actress and the director. Her declaration of love to Shamanov is so selfless and honest, that the man himself seems to be moved and inspired by her act. He becomes more self-confident and opened. Not fearing the gun in Pavel’s hand, he proudly informs the jealous young man about Valentina’s true feelings.
She endures the terrible, humiliating nocturnal incident with Pavel with similar stoicism and dignity. Refusing to leave Chulimsk with her beloved Shamanov, Valentina returns to work the next morning.
The final scene symbolises a dead-end of the narrative and of Valentina’s life. She is seen fixing the fence again; however, this time her delicate face is bruised, baring the traces of people’s indifference and cruelty to her.
Despite being an undeservedly overlooked film, Valentina has a profound emotional and aesthetic effect on the viewer, which is somewhat akin to that evoked by Bergman’s Virgin Springs.