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We will start with a few genre films, rather than those predictable hacks Eisenstein and Tarkovsky.
Katerina and her two friends arrive in 1950s Moscow, land of socialist opportunity, chasing their dreams. Katerina desires an education. Lyudmilla, the Rue McClanahan of the trio, and Antonina, the Bette White, want to snag husbands. Lyudmilla falls for a shy Hockey star. Antonina, a bumbling country guy. Katya meets ambitious camera operator Rudolf. He is excited because there is a new invention called television that will inevitably kill all our culture and that is totally awesome with him. For some reason she sleeps with him. Her friends discover her pregnancy when she eats too many pickles at dinner. Rudolf rejects her and is a mamma’s boy. Fast forward 20 years: she is successful and runs a whole big factory of the people. But her life is empty without love. Where does a Natasha find a strong Soviet man around here?
Ronald Reagan did not know very much, but he knew movies. Films were integral to his foreign policy. Reagan watched this Best Foreign Film Oscar winner hoping to gain a greater understanding of the Russian soul.* That, or he needed a good cry. Reagan believed that Americans and Russians could find common ground, not only through defense against an alien invasion, but also through our cultural similarities. The U.S. and Russia are multi-ethnic societies. We identify strongly with our frontier heritage. We collect dolls.
And, most importantly, we both understand that no successful, career-minded woman can be whole without a man. Not just any man, mind you, but an independent, working-class scoundrel. Women must be taught the importance of housework and submission to masculine authority. Like Afghanistan, a woman must be tamed by a firm hand.
The chick flick is a universal genre. It does not exist as a solely Western innovation (starring Colin Firth). “MDNBiT,” as I like to call it, is just as bewilderingly anti-feminist and anti-intellectual as anything starring Kate Hudson. Once he appears, Katya’s swaggering, quirky, and dirty Matvei McConaugheyov drinks like a Cossack carp, believes men must dominate the household, and that women should make less money. In spite of this, her girlfriends deem him “flawless.” Kitty Mac would disagree. There is an obligatory grand gesture. A Bolshie Rob Reiner movie soundtrack. Proto-bromance: Antonina’s husband gets wasted on vodka and cognac with Katya’s beloved to try to convince him to overlook her higher social status and return. It is unclear, in the end, if he rejects his boorish beliefs.
For all that, there is some truth here: women and hockey both drive men to excessive alcohol consumption. Ultimately, I cannot help but love this movie, its protagonist, and her hero. The problem with the romantic comedy is that it is irresistible. We know these movies give us bizarre expectations about life and love, but the romantic-comedy industrial complex maintains its hegemony over us. Like Rudolf’s television and Reagan’s Cold War, romantic comedies destroy our society but are too much fun to give up.
*Communists have souls? WTF?
A little musical interlude in the film:
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