FILMS

Sex in the U.S.S.R.

A Soviet movie exposes more than skin

Brian D. Johnson June 12 1989
FILMS

Sex in the U.S.S.R.

A Soviet movie exposes more than skin

Brian D. Johnson June 12 1989

Sex in the U.S.S.R.

FILMS

A Soviet movie exposes more than skin

A source of controversy behind the Iron Curtain and of curiosity in the West, Little Vera has brought glamor to glasnost. It is the biggest box-office hit in the history of the Soviet Union, where more than 50 million people have seen it since it opened

there last October. Its frank portrayal of sex and nudity signals a new era of tolerance in Soviet cinema. And its star, Natalya Negoda, has emerged as the first Soviet sex symbol. Offering a literal interpretation of glasnost (openness), she graced the cover of Playboy in

May and posed for a revealing photo spread. But with all the emphasis that has been placed on the novel concept of Communist cheesecake, it is easy to lose sight of the movie itself, which exposes far more than skin.

Little Vera, which opened in Canadian cinemas late last month, presents a gritty view of punk violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic brutality and industrial blight. With sharp edges of humor and anger, it depicts a generation of youth in revolt. Adolescent angst has become a rock ’n’ roll cliché in North America, but it is startling to see it in such a raw, innocent form—Soviet-style. Having won awards during the past 10 months at film festivals in Montreal, Venice and Chicago, Little Vera represents a new wave of cinema uncensored by the Kremlin. Its erotic scenes, which have caused so much furor in the Soviet Union, are not explicit by Western standards. However, the movie is both sexy and smart— by any standard.

A rebel without a cause, Vera is a tanned minx with streaked hair, fishnet stockings and a black leather miniskirt. She lives with her alcoholic father and shrewish mother in an apartment overlooking a railway in a Black Sea port of the Ukraine. Destined for a bleak future as a telephone operator, Vera has begun staying out late and drinking with the local delinquents. At an outdoor rock dance, which later turns into a brawl, she meets Sergei (Andrei Sokolov), a blond, blue-denim hunk who could pass for a California surfer.

They make love in his student dormitory. And before long, he has unceremoniously moved in with Vera’s family. Her parents are appalled. “What will the neighbors think?” her father asks. But Sergei makes no attempt to ingratiate himself. “Why are your parents so dumb?” he asks Vera. “I’m bored here.” Day by day, Sergei taunts Vera’s drunken father with his insolence, until violence finally erupts. Unlike her callous boyfriend, Vera at least tries to be compassionate toward her parents, even if the generation gap seems unbridgeable.

Little Vera’s 27-year-old director, Vasily Pichul, dissects Soviet society with unsparing kitchen-sink realism, while treating his characters with empathy. He reveals the mounting sense of despair behind the carefree rebellion of youths looking for summer fun in a seaside town. Pichul’s camera prowls catlike across horizons of industrial squalor. In one melancholy scene, a sailor—an earnest suitor whom Vera has rejected in favor of Sergei—sunbathes by the sea. But the beach is strewn with concrete rubble, and the sailor winces as a tattoo artist slowly etches a large cross onto his chest.

In another scene, while Vera and Sergei lie kissing in the sand, he asks her if she has a goal in life. “Sergei,” she replies, “we have a common goal—communism.” The sarcasm in her voice is palpable. Stripping away the illusions of the Iron Curtain, Little Vera is an intimate story that never loses sight of the big picture.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON