Unless individuals have had the chance to really plumb the depths of Soviet-era cinema from Russia chances are good that they may have only heard of Larisa Shepitko. This Criterion Collection release acts as the bookends for Shepitkoâ€™s career, collecting eir final work (1976â€™s â€œThe Ascentâ€) with a 1966 piece (â€œWingsâ€) that exists as Shepitkoâ€™s first post-college work. While there are a few other efforts that Shepitko released during eir life time, these works showcase Shepitkoâ€™s evolution as a director perfectly. Wings is incredibly nuanced, focusing on the feelings that lead star Maya Bulgakova has for eir daughter, after the latter has married an individual that the former does not agree with.
Petrukhina (Bulgakovaâ€™s character)â€™s behavior is fueled by the lack of fulfillment that ey has, being unable to take charge of eir old plane. Increasingly unable to control the actions that ey takes in life, Petrukhina is only able has a weak grasp on the actions of eir daughter. Though outwardly happy â€“ being approached amorously by a museum curator â€“ Petrukhina wants to be at that point of eir life where ey was in full control. For my money, The Ascent shines through as the stronger of the two releases. Set in World War II-era Belarus, The Ascent follows Rybak and Sotnikov in their search for food. A solid enough tale taken literally, The Ascent works well as a Christian allegory, with the trials and tribulations forced upon the two â€“ and specifically Sotnikov â€“ placing eir in a Jesus type of role.
While I found myself struggling at points with some of the references and stylistic choices taken by Shepitko, the included liner notes acted as a guide and really added some much needed context to the films. The quality of the audio and video on each film are stellar, clear and crisp despite the age of each film. While NeuFutur is a late comer to what Criterion has done with the Eclipse Series up to this point (releasing efforts by Raymond Bernard, Louis Malle, as well as era-specific foci on Bergman and Ozu), we look to give this series (and the larger Criterion Collection) the spotlight that it deserves.
Eclipse Series 11: Laura Shepitko / 2008 Criterion Collection / 194 Minutes / http://www.criterion.com