Russia makes 150 feature films a year at 19 government-controlled studios. About 70 are available for export by such distributors as International Film Exchange, sponsor of "Soviet Cinema Today," an 11-film festival at the Key.
The regionally diverse films are directed by some of the Soviet Union's most talked- about artists, says a sponsor, adding: "These are not just people who perform dark Chekhov plays. Sure, there is a history of Soviet classics, but there is also a new and growing interest in life-style movies."
Though the festival bows to the classics with "26 Days in the Life of Dostoyevsky," three of four films that screened here deal with modern relationships, and two of those with mid-life crisis. The fourth, "Easy Money," a comedy of manners set in Victorian Moscow, is basically a diatribe against the leisure class of the time.
Best of the four is "A Woman for Gavrilov," a kind of "Never on Sunday," starring Liudmilla Gurchenko as Rita, a 37-year-old bride-to-be. Believing that her lover has jilted her, Rita wanders about the old harbor city of Odessa where she re-evaluates relationships with her daughter, former lovers, coworkers and close friends. Gurchenko, a Shirley Maclaine type, is a vivacious presence. And the film, with its socio-political ending, is satisfying, if sad.
"Portrait of the Artist's Wife" studies an etcher's mid-life crisis and its effect on his wife. Valentina Telichkina, who's in town to open the festival, stars as the patient Nina, who almost has an affair with a Russian Burt Reynolds, a guy named Boris with a speedboat. The film, like "Gavrilov," is as prudish as a Bolshevik's bathing suit. There's no kissing, no hugging, just longing and looking. A climactic rendezvous between Nina and Boris fizzles into a lecture and the marriage is saved.
There's a lot of moralizing going on here, with "Easy Money" the worst offender. Oddly, a capitalist bumpkin is lauded for his industrious pursuit of profit that eventually has him rolling in rubles.
"Valentina," a melodrama set in Siberia, is more stage than screen, with a clumsy, woodsy set. The turgid editing, motionless camerawork and woeful subject matter -- a lovely, pure young waitress is raped by the town bully -- make this gloomy going.
All in all, "Soviet Cinema Today" is nyet ready for prime time.