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Oddly captivating movie: strange, eccentric and beautiful
I really loved this movie, though it's hard to know where to begin to describe it. It has minimal plot, at least certainly nothing terribly concrete and linear that wraps up in a nice little denouement. Instead the story loosely revolves around two women - Fioletta and Lilia ("Violet" and "Lily," in English) - as well as various other people who gather at a horse racing track (called a hippodrome) somewhere near the Black Sea coast. The main thematic backdrop in the film is horses, horse racing and a certain sporting and romantic rivalry amongst the young jockeys, but from there the film branches into a more surreal landscape of eccentric people telling odd tales, philosophizing, betting and wagering, boasting, plotting and scheming, or just plain BS-ing.
The two main women, Violet and Lily, are both attractive and engaging in their own special ways. Violet is apparently a circus performer, currently laid up in a medical sanatorium with a leg injury, but she is soon released, and along with Lily, one of the nurses at the sanatorium, they go to visit a nearby horse racing establishment.
Probably the most intriguing character for me is Lily, played by Renata Litvinova. She plays a nurse who works at the nearby sanatorium - a place which apparently has a morgue. She's a platinum blonde, and a quite attractive one at that, who conjures up images of Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, and Kelly Bundy (okay, Christina Applegate, "Married With Children."). She has the most wonderful airy and breathy voice, not unlike Marilyn Monroe's, which she uses to tell some exquisitely odd stories that just seem to come out of nowhere. There is the story of an earlier acquaintance in her life, a certain Rita Gothier, who died young and had an autopsy performed on her in the morgue of the very sanatorium at which Lily is working. It's a terribly sad story, made all the more dreadful by the fact that some rascal of a coroner deliberately flicked a cigarette butt into the stomach of the open cadaver, which was then duly sewn up by his assistants. Then there was the story of the teenage boy who, due to a love gone bad, hanged himself from a tree, yet he was so skinny and lacking in body fat, that his body didn't decompose but just stayed hanging on the branch, mummifying... Or, the story about Lily's former boyfriend who, for God only knows what reason, kept bringing her an assortment of loaded guns to keep, which she was forced to hide in her aunt's home in some most creative ways. Then one day the boyfriend said horrible words to her and apparently vanished, but this cryptic info is neither explained nor explored further.
But that's the way this movie goes: odd stories abound, eccentric characters appear with little or no explanation of their background, their motivations, their reason for being. There's even a delightfully daft old photographer, a certain Volodya, who goes around showing photos of mythical beasts - half horse, half man - and insisting that they are real.
The character of Lily the nurse was probably the most compelling for me. First, she was quite beautiful - a Nordic sort of blonde coupled with a hard-to-define Slavic exoticism - and I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Second, she had a beautiful voice, and I loved listening to her tell her stories, odd though they were. And lastly, her monologues were just wonderful to listen to in Russian, as that is what first brought me to this movie: I wanted to listen to spoken Russian, a language I have been studying for quite some time now. Wow, what I wouldn't give to have Lily as my Russian tutor! (I noticed that some of the Russian was awkwardly translated in the subtitles, but no matter, it made for some unexpected humor that probably only English speakers of Russian will "get," but will no doubt enjoy.)
The film is visually sumptuous, nicely filmed with great use of light and colors, and includes some long drawn-out montage shots of horses milling about that are just so natural, and so lovingly done. Sound plays a noticeable part in this film as well. Here and there in parts are heard excerpts from a great Beethoven symphony, yet also occasionally are heard in the background a cacophony of war noises: gunshots, automatic weapons fire, missiles, etc. - for no apparent reason, and without explanation. Also, apparently in keeping with director Kira Muratova's style, characters will often say words or phrases over and over again, for no apparent reason other than perhaps because that's just the way Muratova does things... It all makes little sense, yet I didn't feel it marred the film in any way, instead adding to the overall whimsical and eccentric nature of the film.
Anyway, a nicely done film, one that I will long remember. My only regret is that there are not more films like this one, as often times it's the odd, whimsical tale that can bring one the greatest joy.
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