Tag Archives: ambition

Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1979)

“Moscow is one big lottery. There you can hit the jackpot.”

moscow does not believe in tearsSet in Moscow in the late 50s through the late 70s, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Moskva Slezam ne Verit) follows the lives of three Soviet women, Katerina “Katya” (Vera Alentova),  Lyudmilla  “Luida” (Irina Muravyova), and Antonina  “Tonya” (Raisa Ryazanova). Originally from the provinces, the three girls now live in a Worker’s Dormitory and work in Moscow factories. The forceful, determined Luida says that Moscow is like a lottery and by that she means she intends to marry ‘up.’ Meanwhile, the quiet, simple Tonya steadily dates her regular boyfriend,Nikolai (Boris Smorchov) and Katya, the serious one of the trio, hopes to improve herself by getting into university.

Fate intervenes when Katya’s aunt and uncle go on holiday and leave their large, sumptuous flat and their Pekingese in her care. Luida sees this as a wonderful opportunity to entertain eligible men, and entertain she does, dragging Katya into her scheme. The two girls host parties for various men invited by Luida, and the crafty Luida passes herself (and Katya) off as professor’s daughters.

 Luida’s scheme works and she manages to snare professional hockey player Gurin (Alexsandr Fatyushin) while Katya is drawn to television cameraman Rachkov (Yuri Vasilyev)….

The film then flashes forward to 1978 and picks up the trails of the three main female characters’ lives.

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears is essentially a drama laced with comedy–albeit most of the amusement comes from the marvellous character of the indestructible Luida. While Tonya seeks the traditional role of wife and mother, Katya manages to fulfill her ambition to become an educated career woman, and the way the film bridges the time gap between Katya’s struggles and then her success–through the use of a deceptively simple scene involving an alarm clock–is pure brilliance.

Luida’s ambition was to move up in society through marriage, and she employed all means possible to achieve her goal. Essentially her plan goes awry and this is perhaps both a moral and a social statement.When the film picks up the story in 1978, we can see just how far the three women–now entering middle age–have gone with their lives. Some plans have worked and others are a miserable failure. But Luida–in spite of the dashing of her great hopes still indefatigably pursues her goal of catching a man.

The film explores the idea of the strong Russian woman, and the film’s title refers to the fact that the women will continue to plough on–in this case with or without men. Several of the scenes underscore the lack of eligible men available. At first, this is largely seen through Luida’s attempts to hook a man using artifice and clothes as social disguises (at one point, she begins dressing up as a student in order to haunt the university libraries for prey). But the idea that there’s a distinct lack of eligible men is still prevalent in 1978, when Katya visits a centre that is essentially a club for singles, so inundated with females that no more women are allowed to join.

The film has some nice little twists and turns. Katya’s first big mistake was to pretend to be something she wasn’t, and although she was pushed into this by the domineering Luida, Katya pays a great price for this error. Ironically just as she once deceived a man about the truth of her humble circumstances, when she meets Gosha (Aleksei Batalov) and falls in love, she hides the fact that she’s a successful engineer who runs a factory, and pretends she is a simple worker.

While the film includes many themes that are easily accessible–loneliness, career and personal sacrifice, relationships and ambition, there’s another fascinating facet to this film. American film often depicts its characters in conflict with the society in which they live. In Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, the characters are seem struggling but working harmoniously within society and not railing against it.

Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 1981, and it’s easy to see why. With its universal, upbeat and optimistic themes, and its portrayal of everyday life in a frank, yet sympathetic manner, it’s readily accessible to a foreign audience. From director Vladimir Menshov

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Baby Face (1933)

 “Yeah, I’m a tramp, and who’s to blame?”

The marvelous Barbara Stanwyck stars as gold-digger Lily Powers in the pre-Hayes code film, Baby Face. Lily is raised in a depressingly poor and grimy mill town. Her father runs an unofficial speakeasy and makes his own moonshine in the outdoor shed. Lily serves drinks–and a lot more–to the male customers. When Lily becomes tired of her father’s ‘arrangement’ with some of the male customers, she escapes to New York. Here she begins her long, hard climb to wealth–man by man. Along the way, she ruins careers, wrecks lives and even causes a suicide.

babyfaceLily Powers is a great character–very focused, avaricious, hard-edged and driven. Thanks to the early scenes that depict the harsh realities of her life, her ambitious and self-protective need to accumulate wealth is clearly understood. When she first arrives in New York, she identifies a building she wants to work in, and then rapidly rises to the top of the food chain using her looks and various male supervisors along the way. The film doesn’t try to hide Lily’s harpy-like materialistic tendencies, and she’s seen beginning work at literally the bottom floor of an office building. Then scenes depict Lily’s plying her tactics (this includes letting men look down her blouse). Honky tonk music plays as the camera sweeps the front of the office building and Lily moves up to another department (and figuratively improves her place in society). With each new department, she brings herself to the attention of increasingly wealthier men–until she manages to reach the top floor–leaving a trail of broken men in her destructive climb.

As Lily’s jobs become more important, so do the men she seduces. At first, the men have little to lose–she discards a very young John Wayne with little more than a broken heart, but as she crushes more powerful men, the stakes become greater. And this inevitably leads to a front-page scandal.

Stanwyck fans will love watching her unleashed in this role–at one point she acknowledges: “I’m not like other women. All the gentleness and kindness in me has been killed.” There’s little pretense regarding her single-minded ambitious drive, and from the beginning of the film until the last scene, this is clearly Stanwyck’s film.

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