might say the women of the Mari El autonomous republic are in touch with their
inner Earth Mothers. They are comfortable with nature and their sexuality, but the
local men folk can be vexing. A parade of Mari women will experience the
rituals of life in their village on the Volga in Alexsei Fedorchenko’s Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (trailer here), which screens during
the 2014 Rural Route Film Festival in New York.
Denis Osokin clearly has an affinity for “O” names, since every name of the
women featured in Celestial start
with that letter. It turns out there are a lot of Mari names like that. In
fact, there are more names than stories. Not just episodic, many of the women’s
collected stories are mere fragments or jotted sketches, with little
development of any kind.
is there any sort of through-line, Our
Town style narrator, or callbacks to previous incidents to provide
connective tissue. Instead, Fedorchenko and Osokin are purely concerned with
ambiance and local color. Inconsistent by its nature, the better arcs (that
could credibly stand alone as short films) are those that carry a pronounced
folkloric air, such as the standout tale of Onalcha, a purported sorceress and “Daughter
of the Wind.” Twelve year old Ormarche’s encounter with three werewolves is
also quite memorable, but the sexualized imagery imposed the older women in her
party might be problematic for some viewers.
Shandor Berkeshi nicely captures the verdant ruggedness of the Uralic region
and composer Andrei Karasyov’s traditionally-inspired music is surprisingly
catchy. Fedorchenko and Osokin really do give the audience a vivid sense of
Mari life (even though they reportedly take considerable liberties with the
details). However, it is nearly impossible to form an attachment to any of the
assorted characters or to get caught up in the plethora of narrative fragments.
has already made something of a festival name for himself with the powerfully
meditative Silent Souls and his
nicely turned contribution to the anthology film The Fourth Dimension. He certainly has a strong affinity for the
pagan legends and hardscrabble living conditions of Russia’s far flung ethnic
conclaves, but Celestial’s ADD-like
lack of focus undermine attempts to submerge viewers in the Mari milieu.
He is still a filmmaker to watch, but Celestial will probably be remembered as
a minor oddball entry in his filmography. More interesting on paper, Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari screens
tomorrow (8/10) at the Museum of the Moving Image, as part of this year’s
Slavic-focused Rural Route Film Festival in New York.
Labels: Alexey Fedorchenko, Rural Route '14, Russian Cinema