Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

English Title: Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

Original Title: Moskva slezam ne verit

Country of Origin: Soviet Union

Studio: Mosfilm

Director: Vladimir Men'shov

Screenplay: Valentin Chernykh

Cinematographer: Igor Slabnevich

Editor: Valeriya Belova

Runtime: 150 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Language: Russian

Starring/Cast: Vera Alentova, Aleksei Batalov, Innokentii Smoktunovskii, Oleg Tabakov, Liia Akhedzhakova, Aleksandr Fatiushin, Zoia Fedorova, Evgeniia Khanaeva, Irina Muray'eva, Raisa Riazanova, Boris Smorchkov, Viktor Ural'skii, Valentina Ushakova, Iurii Vasil'ev, Natal'ia Vavilova

Year: 1979

Volume: Russian

The film follows the destinies of three friends – Ekaterina, Antonina and Liudmila – from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Originally living together as students in the same dorm room, they subsequently make very different life-choices. The three girls represent three character types: one is dedicated to her career, the second to a simpler life with her husband and the third to nothing in particular, eventually falling victim to her own laziness. Ekaterina begins her career on the noisy floor of a factory, but works her way up to senior management; Antonina is attracted by the idea of marriage and a family early on and soon retreats to something of a rustic idyll. Liudmila is most attracted to Moscow but she fares worst of all. Enamored with glamour and stardom, she never applies herself after graduation. Adulthood brings her nothing more than a drunken spouse and wretched domestic life. Meanwhile Ekaterina – the most socially mobile character – overcomes difficulties caused by an early pregnancy to reach the upper flight of socialist society. Ironically, though, when she finally meets a suitable lover, Gosha, he is unnerved by her remarkable (or non-traditional) success. Only through a compromise between her careerism and his class-related anxieties does the couple find harmony and happiness.

The story of this film’s creation begins in 1978 when the screenplay was first under consideration at the state studios of Goskino. The project was approved with relative speed, but one particular problem arose during casting. Director Vladimir Men’shov had difficulty finding a suitable male actor for the role of Ekaterina’s ultimate companion, Gosha. After some debate, the role was offered to Aleksei Batalov, already well known as the hero of some rather dated dramas such as A Grand Family (Bol’shaia sem’ia, 1954) or Rumiantsev’s Case (Delo Rumiantseva, 1955). Nonetheless it was precisely because of these old-world associations that Batalov was chosen. The director was looking for the embodiment of a working-class ‘slogger’, as he put it, the kind of man who embodied a certain constancy in Soviet values, no matter how petty a modern family movie might seem. Rather than bow to the modishness of a bourgeois melodrama, he wanted Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears to ‘capture the Russian popular spirit’.
That phrase speaks directly to the most commonly debated aspect of the film: whether it does indeed surrender political purpose to a kitchen-sink drama, or whether the sub-plots such as Ekaterina’s workplace success prove exactly the opposite, that the movie celebrates a greater potential for advancement enjoyed by Soviet women, especially when compared to their western counterparts. Ironically these issues arose more overseas than in Russia, where the film was seen as blissful escape from archetypal Soviet moviemaking, burdened with heavy-handed politicking. Given that the feature affords much time to widespread, yet arguably trivial problems – such as the life of a single mother – Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears was referred to in the Soviet press as a work of ‘consoling realism’. It brought comfort to people in their private difficulties, without necessary reference to a loud and public ethos.
Even though the film was shortlisted in Hollywood for the 1980 Best Foreign Film Oscar, many US papers prior to the awards dismissed it as throwaway twaddle. The New York Times, for example, called it ‘hackwork’ in comparison to Truffaut’s submission (The Last Metro) or Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. Critics saw little originality in the movie, comparing it to the ‘flabby comedies’ of 1930s Hollywood, thus – ironically – offering a variation on Men’shov’s own love for Russian film of the same period. The Hollywood tropes stolen by so many Stalinist classics remained recognizable for American critics, but they took on an inverted significance in another country. Rarely were these Hollywood parallels treated kindly.
Nonetheless, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears won the 1980 Oscar. At the peak of its social significance, this sprawling family saga ran simultaneously in twenty Moscow cinemas and would eventually be seen by 85 million people across the Soviet Union. It even enjoyed great popularity among American audiences, reflecting perfectly the workings of Cold War détente: Ronald Reagan would subsequently feel that this film could help him ‘know’ the desires of Soviet delegates at a Cold War summit. Despite any presidential wish for happy universality, though, public suspicion endured in America that Katia, Tonia and Liuda were ‘loose, whining characters’. Whatever they were trying to do, it looked more like a sad, sorry melodrama or unfunny spoof than romantic comedy. Only in Russia did the political context remain in the background, where the film is loved to this day.

Author of this review: David MacFadyen