[26 August 2011]
Pretty young Zina (Yuliya Solntseva) sells cigarettes outside Moscow’s Mosselprom Trade Center. Every day, a hapless accountant (major comedy star Igor Ilyinsky) buys a pack from her, even though he doesn’t smoke. He’s the subject of much broad comedy and pratfalls in his off-and-on relationship with a large man-hungry secretary. A fatcat American industrialist (M. Tsybulsky), one of the era’s stereotypes in Soviet cinema (and American cinema too), offers Zina a job as a model. A tall cameraman (Nikolai Tseretelli), the most likely suitor as the youngest and handsomest, wants her to get a job in the movies, and this leads to behind-the-scenes action and budding postmodern film-within-the-film antics.
You could say that Zina is the hardworking soul of the new young Russia, and she’s being courted by middle-class respectability, wealthy foreigners, and the new image-making media that in this film represent the future. There’s not a collective farmer or factory-trained proletarian in sight.
This light comedy of the modern Moscow isn’t a masterpiece like, for example, Bed and Sofa. The stolid direction, composition and editing are devoid of flourishes, unless you count the tilting when the clerk feels queasy. In his book Kino (1960), historian Jay Leyda briefly discusses director-photographer Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky, stating that during this period he made a prominent folk tale, Morozko, and that his most famous film is his following production, based on Pushkin’s story The Station Master. Surely those are begging for rediscovery.
The movie’s primary value is as a kind of city film, full of street shots of a bustling place that’s also half empty by today’s standards—hardly any traffic around the Kremlin and plenty of parking on the streets. It’s a world of transition; the American is stymied by a horse-drawn carriage (he’s too heavy for it) and waits for an automobile. It also catches a spirit of freshness and youth amid the comic types, as though the carefree world is full of giddy possibilities. The silent film comes with a new score that’s more slow and reflective than “fun”. Mastered from a 35mm print from a cinematheque in Toulouse, France, it looks good, not eye-popping.