One Thousand Years of Solitude
Andrey Smirnov has made the film of his life.

Dmitry Bykov, Novaya Gazeta, June 06, 2011

To be honest, I was very afraid to watch Andrey Smirnovís film Once Upon a Time There was a Simple Woman. It was not because Smirnov hadnít shot for thirty years - the skill, according to Marina Tsvetaeva, "lies in hand". But in his interviews, he appears to be a persistent and dedicated anti-Communist, and an ideological task has destroyed even the greatest of masters. There has never been a decent movie about the Civil War in Russia, except for Bumbarash, which although deep is still an unsophisticated work, and The Uncatchable Avengers, which is about something completely different. It is possible to create genre films based on this material, but the comprehension of the tragedy of a self-destructing people had not yet been achieved. It is not entirely clear from which point of view the director can shoot - he cannot take the Red or the White side, a view from a different height is needed. This view had been foreshadowed in Smirnovís Angel, but we still donít have an epic about that Civil War. And it couldnít just come out of nowhere. In order to pull off such an epic you need a very smart artist - not just a master, not just a strong filmmaker, but you need someone with a big and brave mind. Andrey Smirnov is such a man and he has miraculously realized a gigantic, almost three-hour long, truly epic picture that spans twelve years. And what years!

The revolution, according to Smirnov, was not the creation of a new world, but a series of bloody and vengeful massacres, an orgy of self-destruction and sadistic joy by those who now ďhave grabbed powerĒ. Only the feeble-minded and hyperactive Malafey can fit into any regime as its commissary. Smirnovís main character, Varvara, whose very name means "stranger" or "foreigner", has literally no place to live: sheís kicked out of the village, her farmstead is burned down, and everybody is looting and raping her in turn. Until the very end there is no conjecture and no metaphors, but rather just the contrary - harsh reality, flesh, and perfect knowledge of the material. Yes, there are leitmotifs, an epic canít be built without them. The remark most often repeated in the film is "no one asked you" - the universal answer to all questions and claims. In fact, no one here asks for permission from anybody. But this environment, certainly wild and nearly hopeless, creates amazing and seemingly out-of-nowhere heights and miracles. It is here that such a strong rejection of this world that is relentlessly on your heels becomes possible. From the energy of escaping, from the desire to break away, new types of humans emerge that are personifications of Russian saintliness. Alexei Serebryakov (in his best performance yet as Davyd Lukich) is very local and at the same time totally of another place. The characters do not even have a place for love - for this they go into the forest, but war is war, and even this peasant war will find you anywhere. I will not retell anything, for I couldnít if I tried, but Smirnov has made not so much a national drama, but rather a love story in which the lovers, as is befitting a tragedy, are doomed from the very start. It's just that in Smirnovís film their death is paid for by the whole world, and it well deserves such retribution.

The theme of water, of a flood, of engulfing and embracing waters is introduced in Smirnovís film little by little, from the prologue when the camera wanders through a flooded church and later during a scene of night fishing, when an escaped convict tells the Legend of Kitezh and suddenly cries out, "We all devour each other! Thereís no people more wretched than us!Ē Smirnovís directing style is deliberately down-to-earth, extremely reserved and totally realistic throughout the picture until its explosive, metaphysical finale, holding back the entire emotional charge until last five minutes. If you remember, it was also like that in Belorussian Station and in Autumn, but in this latest film, this technique was used with the most virtuosity. The final flood, sweeping across the entire province and turning it into a new Kitezh, a deluge in which only the village idiot survives, as it is in Kenzaburo Oeís powerful work named after the Psalm, The Waters Are Come in unto My Soul. This Kitezh is submerged not because it has earned salvation for its holiness, but because after all that has happened, after all that its people had done to themselves with their own hands, it is impossible to live there any longer. We see Davydís coffin pop up from out of its flooded uncovered grave. We see Varvaraís shack flooding.  And then suddenly the torrent bursts into all the homes, covers the forest and blood soaked earth. This is the last universal flood, a flood that canít be denied. "Because races doomed to one hundred years of solitude didnít used to have a second chance on earth." (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This is what he made his film about - the pain of a human soul in a doomed city. Without hope, but with infinite love and suffering. Twenty-five years of writing, rewriting, filming, and editing.