1983 / USSR /140 min / 2 parts / Mosfilm studio
Director – Gleb Panfilov
Inna Churikova – Vassa Zheleznova
Format – 35 mm / DVD
For information about rights for theatrical and DVD distribution – please contact “Vera Films”
1985 Vasiliev Brothers’ State Prize ( Leonid Kalashnikov)
1985 Vasiliev Brothers’ State Prize (Gleb Panfilov)
1985 Vasiliev Brothers’ State Prize (Inna Churikova)
1985 State Prize of USSR (Valentina Telichkina)
1983 Moscow International Film Festival (Golden Prize – Glen Panfilov)
1913. Vassa’s family has had more than its fair share of trouble: her husband is accused of child molesting, her brother got a maid pregnant, one daughter is ‘wrong in the head’ and the other, barely of age, is fast turning alcoholic. Its self-indulgent members can gambler away a whole fortune overnight, spy on each other, pray and commit crime with the name of God on their lips. Vassa had everything — money, power, intelligence, a tight grip on her household. One thing she didn’t have was a future... Based on the play Vassa Zheleznova by Maxim Gorky.
About the film
Panfilov’s decision to adapt a very well-known play of a Soviet writer, who was not most popular at the time, evokes at once surprise and fascination.
Can the director say anything new about the material which has lost its resonance with contemporary times, and which has been adopted for screen and theatre a number of times? Naturally, Panfilov manages to convince the ministry of culture that his version of the well-known story will be the best one, that he will create a new, finer and more perspicacious character of Vassa.
In this film, Panfilov utilises different means of adaptation, he makes the play much more contemporary; he cuts out many episodes and parts, and writes new plotlines.
It is astonishing that film and literature critics perceived the film as a meticulous and precise adaptation of Gorky’s original work. It is also interesting to note, that while praising the film for its devotion to the play, many reproach Panfilov for not utilising the cinematic language to its full. Nevertheless, it is the camera-pen with which the director writes this film, from the very opening establishing shot of Vassa walking through the slum to the closing ariel shot of Vassa’s ship floating in the contemporary waters of river Volga. The scene of the arrival of Vassa’s husband, which ultimately is the scene of Vassa death, is astoundingly expressive in emotional and aesthetic terms. It produces a powerful sensual effect — an uncanny melange of sudden fear and intimate longing – through an intelligent use of framing and montage (there is no dialogue or music in this scene)
The performances in the film are far removed from the theatrical realm, as the movements, gazes and intonations are so subtle.
Once again, Churikova’s leading performance is a revelation. She interprets her character against the grain of theatrical tradition, wisely and humanely, demonstrating a profound understanding of and respect for her heroine.
This film again reveals Panfilov’s unique trademark as a director and a script writer, which is the ability to create a multidimensional character, combining a wide range of nuanced emotions and qualities in an objective, yet not a prudent, manner.
Today, Vassa does not seem dated; on the contrary it rapidly becomes all the more relevant, and even the immaculately reconstructed sets and costumes do not prevent the viewer from drawling parallels with the contemporary world and its ways of living.
“The part of the authoritarian Vassa has already been canonised by Vera Pashena in the nation-famous TV drama, and Inna Churikova has entered into a hopeless competition. However, she managed to win. Her Vassa turned out different. She is more humane and therefore evokes compassion. The film has the grandeur of a psychologically intense tragedy of a Shakespearean scope, set against a lovely backdrop of a small town on River Volga. The cinematography by Leonid Kalashnikov is beyond any praise”
- Valery Kichin, “Rossyiskaya Gazeta”
«Inna Churikova created a magnificent character of Vassa. A character, which supposed to evoke antipathy, is portrayed as a complex human being. Because of that we don’t see Vassa simply is a tyrant in a skirt. She is also a victim.”
- Robert Chazal, “France Soire”, 21.11.83
“The most evident is its beauty. Making the most of the plenitude of characters, the film relishes the elegance of costumes and period decors. The owners of all this might be complete louses, but Socialist Realism will never look that beautiful”
- Marshall Polly, “Village Voice”, USA, 29.11.1983
“The director does not intend to replicate the stage play. The theatrical quality of the film is only evident in the small number of leading characters, confined spaces of action and the rapid progression of the events.
Scenes shot on location and the immaculate details of the décor truthfully recreate the époque. This is exactly what gives the film its unique charm.”
- Jean Roy “Revolution”
“For the wondrously sour-mouthed Vassa Zheleznova (Churikova), troubles come not in threes but in great swinging clusters. Her husband is accused of child-molesting, her brother is a lush who has got the maid pregnant, one of her daughters is ’wrong in the head’, while the other is scampering through puberty towards nymphean alcoholism. Add murder, suicide and hefty dollops of greed, and you have Maxim Gorky’s version of Dynasty on the Volga, with the ripples extending out to embrace imminent revolution. Set in 1913, this presents a portrait of a society fit for rupture, viewed with sad disgust. Panfilov wisely never forces the pace, letting the richness of the piece come through in a host of finely tailored performances. An unexpected delight.”
- Time Out Film Guide
“As opposed to what has been a prevailing opinion for a long time, Vassa is a mother, and not some monolithic character. She is sensitive, her personality has many dimensions. She is a positive human being, and we feel compelled to understand her, which is not the same thing as to justify her acts”
“La Nouvelle” 24.10.1983
“Once we have started brainstorming, I’ve understood that Vassa loves her husband with a unique strong love, that she loves her house, and her girls, once we have started listening to the songs which she listened to, I said: I will try…”