The Long Farewell Kira Muratova (USSR; 1971) Zinaida Sharko; Oleg Vladimirsky
viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 3 Dec 2023; ticket: £7
Kira Muratova’s ‘The Long Farewell’ centres on a relationship that is rarely covered in the movies, namely the relationship between mother and adolescent son. Aside from the caricature relationships centred about crude representations generated by crime genre films such as Raoal Walsh’s Cagney film ‘White Heat’ and various other similarly structured scripts featuring Mothers as family crime bosses, this relationship has been almost completely outside the interests of producers and directors, most of whom have been male.
And yet many women, for different reasons are locked into the emotional investment endemic in bringing up sons to be young men. As a woman director, Muratova has taken this cross gender / cross generation dyad as subject of ‘The Long Farewell’ and invested in a script that avoids the sensational and obvious types of filmic manipulation. Rather Muratova invites the audience to absorb the emotional orbits of both Yevgeniya and her son Sasha, employing a scenario based on perceptions rather than images. The perceptions are mediated through a series of situations: graveyard, train journeys, visits, home, work, public events. Situations in which the viewer absorbs the shifting dynamics between mother and maturing son as their relationship shifts from the stage of the comfortable dependency of childhood to a new shifting basis of uncertainty and instability.
Muratova’s ‘The Long Farewell’ is a neo-realist film in the tradition of directors such as De Sica and Rossellini, who likewise carved out a series of films that were less about presenting action and story line, rather more about inventing a Cinema of thought.
Early commentators connected neo-realist movies to a concern with social content. But this linkage overdetermines the role of content in these films which were in fact structured around the intentions and concerns by De Sica et al to make another form of Cinema. A Cinema that was not locked into action images and the play out of narrative but rather to create a new kind of constructed reality that was elliptical, wavering, working in blocs with deliberately weak connections. Neo-realism ethos didn’t reproduce or represent the real, but rather aimed at the real, always ambiguous always asking its audience to decipher what was going on. Asking the audience to engage in an act of seeing, to accept the invitation to be part of the thought processes of the film.
Muratova’s film is about process not about outcome and the film is shot and edited in a cinematic style that enables the audience to be witness to the fluctuations of mood that play out between mother and son as the emotional balance between them undergoes a significant shift. The shooting is defined by wide shots comprising long takes that encompass optical situations that allow the viewer to see what is going on. The climactic optical situation takes place in auditorium of a theatre where Yevgena arriving late and drunk finds someone occupying her seat. Despite being given chances to settle the situation she is overwhelmed by her frustrations and fears; in this ridiculous situation she is overwhelmed by her powerlessness and she erupts in a spectacle of public fury. As her increasing anger renders her more and more out of control, it is only the intervention of Sasha that rescues her from what looks like a moment of inevitable shame and humiliation. And it is through this optical situation that we see that the fulcrum of love has come to rest at a point where now it is the son who now has responsibility to look after the mother.
This is of course not an end point; a end realisation. We have witnessed a shift in a point of time. From the nature and structure of Muratova’s movie is clear that her script is a strip of action; the time covered in the film a poised moment in the flow of life from past to present to future. The present is amenable for us to witness but the past and the future are veiled vistas. If we come away from the film affected by what we have seen, it is not because we have been manipulated by the torque of the scenario; it is because we feel we have been in close proximity to the complexity of the human situation which we know all to well from our own lives.