Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wings

I don't know of any other movies like WingsWings (1966) is a post-World War II drama set in the Soviet Union, where it was produced, about a woman who served as a pilot during the war but now struggles in her civilian life. And it was directed by a woman, Larisa Shepitko, who died in a car crash at the age of 41 after demonstrating enormous talent in a handful of films.

There are many movies about war veterans struggling to adjust to life out of uniform, such as Coming Home and even First Blood, but I don't know of any others from a Soviet perspective, and I don't know of any other prominent female directors from that period in the Soviet Union.

Shot in black and white, Wings follows Nadezhda Petrukhina (Mayya Bulgakova), who served with distinction during the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Air Force. Twenty-plus years later, she's the headmistress of a vocational school. The students don't respect her, her daughter Tanya (Zhanna Bolotova) won't introduce her to her new husband, and overall, Nadezhda feels unfulfilled, out of place, and unappreciated.

Her time in the military taught her the value of obedience, duty, discipline, and sacrifice. When Tanya suggests resigning from the school and letting someone else take over, Nadezhda is almost insulted by the notion. "I never even knew such words as these: 'Let someone else do it'."

Less of a narrative than a character study, Wings shows Nadezhda in different incidents that depict her dilemma while inter-cutting the occasional memory from her time as a pilot. She works hard and makes many sacrifices, but the younger generation just doesn't seem to get her. When she asks one disobedient student why he acts so arrogantly, he coldly replies, "Because I despise you."

The black-and-white photography is very fitting. Nadezhda lives in a stark, cold world, and Shepitko's camera hangs close on her face, so we can sense all her anger, shame, boredom, confusion, loneliness, and defiance. Many scenes contain long takes, and inside the confines of her office or her apartment, Nadezhda looks cramped and boxed in by a world that is pushing her out.

One of the most poignant moments in the film occurs when Nadeshda sits in a museum and overhears a group of students on tour. Her name is mentioned by the guide as a local hero, but the student's don't care. They move on, not realizing how close to living history they really are. Nadezhda examines her picture on the wall and realizes that's all she is: a forgotten, overlooked relic.

The only reprieve occurs when she thinks on her time in the service. She imagines flying through the clouds and remembers her lost lover Mitya (Leonid Dyachkov), a fellow pilot who perished in the war.

These scenes occur almost entirely from Nadezhda's point-of-view, giving the film a subjective touch, and instead of making us feel trapped, it makes the viewer feel free. We gaze into Mitya's loving face, walk through the open fields, and soar through the sky, and we understand why she prefers past glories to present indignities.

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