LOVE GLASNOST STYLE
by Pat Padua
On the surface, A Railway Station for Two ( Eldar
Ryazanov, 1982) is a Russian Bringing Up Baby - the kind of screwball
comedy where a man and a woman are thoroughly annoyed with each other
and get into mishap after mishap before falling in love. But there is
also a political element - the woman's boyfriend is a train conductor
who smuggles black market melons on the side.
(Oleg Bailashvili) is trying to catch a train to Moscow, but Vera (Lyudmila
Gurchenko), a waitress at the station cafe, somehow keeps making him
miss it. Gromov leaves her a lousy tip and Vera calls security. Vera's
smuggler boyfriend asks Gromov to watch a trunkful of melons - and disappears
with Gromov's passport. As Gromov and Vera get acquanited, he sometimes
stops and broods; the scene turns to what seem like flashbacks of life
at a prison camp. Or are the screwball scenes flashbacks from prison,
looking back on better days? At over two hours, A Railway Station
for Two is a slow ride, but the final destination is moving.
Klava (Irina Kupchenko) posts an ad on the lampost outside her apartment
building: Lonely Woman Seeks Lifetime Companion (Viacheslav Kristofovich,
1987). She's an attractive, serious-looking blonde, with strong thin
lips and sad blue eyes. But are there any good men in Kiev? The man
who answers her ad may not fit the bill. Valentin (Alexander Zbruyev)
is unshaven, dirty, alcoholic, and was once a circus performer. Klava
and Valentin bicker. Valentin asks her for a loan. Naturally, she casts
him out as unsuitable, though their paths continue to cross over the
next ninety minutes.
Klava is self-sufficient: she works in a dress factory,
lives alone in a decent apartment with a TV, and seem to lack for nothing
material. In an American movie, Klava would probably be whiny and/or
ditzy, but Irina Kupchenko is wonderfully understated. She's thick-skinned
and can more than hold her own in a fight, but you can see the fatigue
and loneliness in her eyes. Her face is expressive even though firm
and stoic. Her soft features and pale blue eyes temper strength with
vulnerability. She's pretty, she's got character, and deserves better.
Woman was shot on a low budget - most of it takes place in her apartment
building - but there are simple moments that a more stylish effort would
have oversold. Klava lets Valentin spend a night at her place - on a
cot. As he gets ready for bed, she lies alone in bed by an open window.
Headlights pass by and stop briefly enough to light half her face: her
eyes are wide open, staring into nothing. The lights move on, her face
again in darkness. In the movie's closing shot, you see why the lights
stopped. In the middle of the night, Klava's neighbor, another lonely
woman, puts an ad of her own on the streetcorner lamp-post. Across the
way, a car stops to make a left turn; its headlights stare straight
ahead for a moment and then turn away.
©2001 Pat Padua