MARIYA (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1978, 1988)

Robust, in her element working the earth, 41-year-old collective farmer Mariya Semionovna Voinova provides a smiling portrait of Soviet industry, strength, endurance. This is the centerpiece of the first of the two segments of the short documentary Mariya that Aleksandr Sokurov made nine years apart. This first segment is in color, and this color, which at times is borderline lush, is correlative to the indomitable impression that Mariya makes. It is a false impression. In truth, Mariya is shoring herself up for the camera, behaving as she thinks she ought to behave, aiming to make a poem out of hard work that is made all the harder by the “primitive machines” with which she must daily cope and, it is implied, the debilitation that being part of a futureless nation imposes. She is posing for the camera, as we glean when, facing it, she grandly refers to her husband as her “beloved husband.” We learn in the second segment, a return to her village, that Mariya died five years earlier at 45.
     Much of the better second segment is in black and white. (At times, there seems to be a faint green tint to it—almost a mockery of the earlier full-fledged color.) It opens with Sokurov’s/the camera’s view of the long vehicular approach to the village. This part is in color, but the black and white kicks in in the village, where Sokurov publicly shows the earlier segment and photographs detail Mariya’s simple funeral. Sokurov juxtaposes a snippet from the first segment and a photograph of Mariya’s laid-out corpse so it appears that the living Mariya was facing her own death—which is precisely what she had been doing, what so much of her life consisted of: implicitly, a metaphor of countless Soviet lives.

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