1994, Switzerland, Locarno, a film festival. During Kira Muratova film “Passions” some people just stood up and left the hall. The scene of horses running lasted 10 minutes. No words. Just horses running. One woman lost her temper and hissed, “Does she want me watching horses’ asses the whole time?!” Ms. Muratova explains the 10-minute scene with horses ingeniously simple, “I had such an obsession at that time.” And adds, “If I film horses once more I’ll film them less.” These are all the explanations, which are far from excuses.
Some scenes of her “The Asthenic Syndrome” seem to be better unseen – there are so many things that polite people hardly even mention and a person alone doesn’t dare to think about. If you don’t remember, watch again, for example, the eating fish scene… One of the features of her films is repeating of one phrase several times. It’s annoying at first. But then gradually you start to realize: that’s how people talk in a real life – with mumbling, mistakes and repetitions.
Those who have seen Kira Muratova’s films won’t be very impressed by her biography. She was born on November 5, 1934 in a Bessarabian town of Soroky to a family of communists. Shortly thereafter, the father was shot. Her mother was an outstanding person of her time: she worked as a radio hostess , as a doctor at the Maternity Home, as a deputy of the Romania Minister of Healthcare, she even brought out several books on baby care. After school, Muratova entered the philology department at the Moscow State University, but she left it in one year and entered the department of directing at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. She was lucky to have Sergei Gerasimov and Tamara Makarova as her teachers.
“It’s quite a standard beginning,” someone may say, “nothing special.” But Kira Muratova wasn’t a rebel or a spy to seize with her biography. The most important is ahead. Her groupmates say she was “mysterious, attractive, with an unforgettable smile. She had much of an alien, she was a bit strange, actually.”
Kira Muratova said that famous Sergei Gerasimov helped her to reveal something, which had been sleeping inside of her. So to say, he waked up her talent. She was inspired by Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni when decided to shoot her first films. Some people found a new cinematographic aesthetic in her works, others just lifted their hands in dismay. Someone was fascinated with her art, someone considered her mentally ill. A little has changed since then. Muratova is widely known for a small number of people. Her catchy name and surname may sound familiar to many, but her films… they are certainly not a pop culture. Kira Muratova is one of the most ambiguous art-house directors. Not only in Ukraine. In the world. Her films are about the mankind, about the eternal.
The language of her films is deeply symbolic and often just scary. Of course, it’s not for everyone. Kira Muratova once said that “cinematography is not a viewer referendum but her life obsession.” It’s hard to argue.
Her ethic and aesthetic beliefs are contradicting, ambiguous, sometimes even extremely opposing. Her art vision consists of eclectics and mixing of genres. Muratova loves freaks and geeks, and… doesn’t believe in progress. “I extremely like people who don’t fit into this world: freaks and kind nonconformists. I am bored with wicked weirdos. However, when I am told that I don’t love people, I don’t get it. I am not a cat nor the God to love people. To love them in such a way, man needs to be either above or under them, as for me, I am near.”
The 1971 film “The Long Farewell” was almost fully damaged. 500 copies were damaged, only 2 survived. Soviet magazines reported, “It could be an entertaining film about a person who starts to live and realize his responsibility. However, Muratova told a story about a reserved, aloof and faceless community and so on. Man can hardly make out a soviet reality in the film. Trying to follow the trend, a young director considers the aesthetic approaches of her overseas colleagues irrationally. She doesn’t take into account the social origins of their works.”
In one of the interviews, Muratova told that the biggest challenge in her work was struggling with soviet ideologists, and later – seeking funds. However, she highlighted that seeking funds is far easier than struggling with rock-solid beliefs.
“I am afraid of emptiness. I mix different genres. In fact, I’m not well-educated. I don’t know some basics, that’s why I mix everything: jargon and pathos, filming in a studio and in streets. That is the freedom. As soon as I feel that it is beautiful, I start to enjoy it,” it is just an attempt to realize her sense of beauty via an interview. However… it doesn’t work out. She denied the standards, was against them. “You want to get some formulas from me, but I won’t give them out. Too much honor. For me. I am not the God, I don’t even have a common idea of the cinema.” It hardly helps to understand her aesthetic approaches, doesn’t it? One more quotation. “I like kitsch. I like bad taste. How about that? I like it because it contradicts to all the commitments, all the imposed. Bad taste is good taste, I’ve always been saying that. Meanwhile, good taste is bad taste…”
That’s what she’s like. No, you can’t say what she’s like for sure. An attempt to generalize her original approach is nothing than just speaking about an artist using choreography terms. Or about an opera singer using the language of sculpture. I mean – it’s impossible. I mean – at all. She doesn’t fit in canons. And that’s what she’s like!
“You see, I don’t believe in progress. There are some unchangeable things in the society, and art won’t be of any assistance. For example, Germany. They had Beethoven, Hegel and then – bang! – death camps. Art tends to sugarcoat the reality. The most sullen and sadistic art is still less sadistic and sullen than the reality and life,” by the way, in one of the interview Muratova called herself a funny animal with sad eyes.
And now she’s gone. She died at night on June 6, 2018. This is, again, just a line in the biography. The last one. So to speak, a final point. Further – only a page number and a reference list. But it happens to politicians, and even to rebels and spies. However, it’s not like that with Muratova. Her biography isn’t very substantial. Watch “The Long Farewell” again. Your feelings (actually, it is more of the intuitive level – perceptions), given quite a vague plot, will guide you to the furthest corners of your mind, open doors to the impenetrable and the inconceivable, which used to be asleep and didn’t wake up inside of you, so other biographies would fade.
Kira Muratova once said that she wanted to be present at screening of her films incognito. To stand aside and listen attentively to what people say about them. So be it.
By Serhii Osoka