Down-and-out Russians form unlikely bond in 'Lonely Woman'

January 15, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

'Lonely Woman

Seeks Life

Companion'

Starring Irina Kupchenko and Alexander Zubruyev.

Directed by Viacheslav Krishtofovich.

Released by Ifex.

Unrated.

***

No one has called "Lonely Woman Seeks Life Companion," the melancholy Soviet fable opening today at the Charles, a Russian "Marty," so let me be the first: It's a Russian "Marty."

Anybody out there remember "Marty"? What's that, gramps, you say you do? Paddy Chayevsky's immortal 1955 film is about a lonely Bronx butcher who seeks a lifetime companion, meets a frumpy schoolteacher of a different ethnic group, falls in love, and then almost allows himself to be bumped out of it by various family types who know what's best for him.

In the case of "Lonely Woman Seeks Life Companion," it's a Kiev seamstress and the "different" man with whom she begins to find release from her isolation isn't a member of another group but another classification: He's "socially unfit," being an unemployed, drunken reprobate and this society, glasnost or not, still takes "social unfitness" very seriously.

Klava, played brilliantly by Irina Kupchenko, initially views poor Valentin (Alexander Zubruyev) in the proper context: He's a dumpy, dirty little mongrel, smelling of disagreeable substances. She, meanwhile, clearly deserves better and is a victim not of bad luck but of the lack of available men in the Soviet Union: At 43, she's still a proud, beautiful woman, self-sufficient and competent if a trifle desperate (it's her ad in the newspaper that brought him to her door one rainy evening).

Everything in the movie is small-beer: These are run-down people in an imperfect society where nothing quite works. Not a police state so much as a committee-state: not a totalitarian land so much as a bureaucratarian land. The national flower is red tape, nobody has cobbled the streets since the War and you have to take a number to get drunk.

Gradually, however, the clumsy, awkward relationship between Klava and Valentin begins to emerge, when she begins to understand that beneath his status there's an authentic, and rather decent, human being. He's a man of some amazements, not a slacker but an injured circus aerialist, formerly married to a beautiful woman.

It's not quite love that develops, but something much more abiding: friendship.

But as convincing as this is, it does trump the American antecedent in one key way: "Marty," as gramps will tell you if he's still around, had a conventional happy ending, courtesy of Hollywood, U.S.A. Not so much luck for Klava and her banty little possible life companion.

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