Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

Katya, heroine of Vladimir Menshov’s smash hit film of 1980, Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, represented many things to many viewers. Played by Vera Alentova, she was meant to appeal to the mass audience by representing the Soviet everywoman. The character succeeded, selling seventy -five million tickets and pleasing Gosfilm boss Fillip Ermash, whose administration was focused on winning back the Soviet mass viewer. Equal if surprising success was met with the American Film Academy, which awarded the film an Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1980. If intellectuals and critics were not impressed, few at Mosfilm were worried.

Whether or not Katya embodied Soviet womanhood depends on the interpretation of the film, and on a willingness to mix fantasy with fact. The film chronicles the young lives of three emblematic women, who arrive in the Moscow metropolis in 1957 to get educated and catch men. Educated they become, though not always to much purpose; and they do catch men. Two are cads. Katya meets a handsome young man in the exciting new field of television; he turns cad when she becomes pregnant, and he disappears. Liudmila (Irina Muravieva) catches a star hockey player, who disappoints her by becoming an alcoholic. Only simple Antonina (Raisa Riazanova), who catches an equally simple country boy, lives a happy family life. Education and social mobility are clearly not the paths to happiness for women. When the film leaps forward to the year 1979, Katya is a mother, manless and dissatisfied. Although a factory director, in many ways the pinnacle of Soviet success, she has little to point to in her life. Her daughter is rebellious and in need of fatherly discipline, and Katya needs a male shoulder to lean on in her moments of weakness. She eventually finds these in Gosha (played by the classic Soviet male, Aleksei Batalov), the simple work man who puts her house in order. Though an occasional tippler, and as troubled as Katya by her superior work status, his simple goodness enriches everyone in the end.

Female viewers could see in the character of Katya a reflection of their own travails. Unsupported by the men around her, Katya was subject to the “double burden,” giving her equal rights but more than equal duties. She had to carry the load at work and at home, cooking, cleaning, coping with inadequate day care and inadequate food and consumer supplies. She suffered the same anxieties about femininity that Russian women and men felt, and yet felt that she was entitled to a satisfying work life. Thus she was caught in the classic Soviet dilemmas: she had the right to succeed, but not the support to do so; and she was driven by a need to succeed that she herself thought unfeminine.

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