Director Vera Storozheva
Cast: Kseniia Kutepova, Sergei Puskepalis, Ol’ga Popova, Aleksandr Naumov, Vadim Afanasiev, Dmitrii Chernov, Nikolai Kozak, Evgenii Kniazev
Vera Storozheva describes her new film Spring Will Soon Be Here as more accessible and entertaining than her 2007 Traveling with Pets, an award-winning picture that features Spring’s lead actress Kseniia Kutepova in the lead role (Mukhina). The great number of visual, stylistic, and thematic parallels between the two films prompts a comparative analysis, which establishes Spring as less coherent and conceptually different from its remarkable predecessor. If the 2007 film promoted female agency, independence and desire for change, the new feature disappoints the initiated viewer with its rather traditional view of women and their role in society.
In Traveling with Pets, an exploited and emotionally numb orphan, the wife of a railroad trackman, attains spiritual awakening following the death of her domineering husband. The heroine’s inner quest documents the “softening of her angry heart,” as symbolically suggested by an Orthodox priest’s gift of the eponymous icon. Before Natalia can obtain her true mind and soul, she must learn not only to connect to others, but also to love and respect herself. In the course of the film, she tries out a number of patriarchal scenarios for her new life (as bride, whore, and remarried woman), but consecutively rejects them all to locate her self worth in her striving for freedom and independence. While Natalia ultimately becomes an adoptive mother (thereby fulfilling her womanly essence), her rejection of a circumscribing marriage in favor of a spiritual connection with another orphan sends a refreshingly liberating message to the women in Storozheva’s audiences.
In Spring, which Storozheva terms an eccentric drama (“Kinotavr”), Kutepova goes on to play another asocial and introverted woman tormented by personal trauma, but here the heroine, a nun in a provincial monastery, will move to a less prominent position. Mother Catherine cares for a monastery farmstead, sheltering a dozen male vagabonds who share close quarters with the farm’s animals. The compassionate animal motif with cows and goats nurturing the needy with their “healing” milk reverberates with the emotional support and nurture Natalia received from her goat and dog in Traveling with Pets. Helping Mother Catherine is a naïve and kindhearted sixteen-year-old “charity nurse” Olia (Ol’ga Popova), whom the nun brought in from a nearby orphanage. The women’s male charges pledge to stay away from alcohol and the opposite sex, and help with tending to the animals while they survive the winter there. The members of this motley community refer to each other as brothers, help build a chapel, read Scripture, and participate in the nightly ritual of asking forgiveness from God and each other. On her visits to a nearby town, Olia periodically picks up other stray souls to look after and save. On one such trip she finds Pavel (Sergei Puskepalis), a charismatic albeit carefree businessman who had crashed his car in the area. Olia’s caring heart immediately falls for the man who looks helpless and disoriented away from his executive environment. Her devotion to him only intensifies when she finds out that he has been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. As the story unfolds, we discover that Pavel is actually a ghost from Mother Catherine’s past. The three central characters have much soul-searching to do before attaining spiritual peace and forgiveness....
Reviewed by Elena Monastireva-Ansdell © 2010 in KinoKultura