Once Upon a Time There Was a Woman

Larisa Malyukova interview of Andrey Smirnov, Novaya Gazeta, Sep 10, 2008

I began to study the material beginning with the history of the Tambov Uprising and its suppression. But as I plunged into the material I made discoveries for myself. The image of a slave to the nation is rooted not only in the West, but also in our own minds: yes, we are eternal lackeys. But even so, resistance to the Soviet regime was fierce and nationwide. Already in February 1918, in the reports of the newly created Cheka, it is mentioned that in only six provinces alone that were taken under the authority of the Soviet Peoples Committee there were more than four hundred armed uprisings of the peasants. The villages confronted the Soviet regime with such a unanimous resistance that it gave rise to fear in the fevered mind of Lenin, who hated Russia wholeheartedly. But there were two realms he particularly hated fiercely - the peasantry and the clergy. It was not the capitalists and landlords, but those two that suffered the most during the Revolution. The most terrible losses, and the greatest number of deaths occurred with the peasantry and clergy. There was a whole program. Seeing the powerful opposition of the rural population, Lenin had a "constructive" idea: to introduce class struggle into the village. Thus Poor Peasants Committees were born. Village drunks and beggars were appointed chiefs to Poor Peasants Committees, giving them the right to rob and kill prosperous and productive peasants. Because of the terrible terror inflicted on the country by the Poor Peasants Committees, they were done away with by the autumn of 1918.

I began to dig deeply into this and a terrible picture was revealed... According to the 1918 census, 83% of the Russian population was considered to be peasants. And among the remaining 17%, its hard to say exactly, but not less than 10% of them were considered workers. And who were the workers? From November till May, for example, a guy would work at the Putilov Factory and in May hed go back to his village, first to plow and sow, then to gather the hay, and then to harvest the crops. He would do all of this until the threshing was over. Sometime soon after The Feast of the Intercession (Pokrov) he would go back to the city.

The Russian mentality whether you like it or not - created the great Russian literature of the 19th century, and the cultural explosion on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries in all spheres of culture. All of this is based, of course, on a peculiar view of the world, life, and man's relationship with God and nature that had developed over thousands of years. And all of this grew out of the peasant way of life and Orthodox Christian ideas. It was this point that would be hit with incredible precision and ferocity. The entire civilization perished. It can never be recovered. Never. As a friend of mine says, We are all descendants of the Gulag guards. All the rest had to die inside the barbed wire perimeters. Plunging into the material, I realized that it was impossible to convey everything that had been committed. This is a bloody drama. And people dont go to the movies to hang themselves afterwards. After a year of intense work, I understood that I needed a woman as the protagonist. Men are fighting. And how does this life break down? Of course, it is through a woman, the keeper of the hearth, the mother, the sister...

The name of my heroine was not chosen by chance. Varvara is the Greek word for stranger, a foreigner. As soon as she appears in the village, she is immediately considered a stranger. This issue of seeing one's neighbor as an enemy is paramount. How can we as Orthodox Christians fulfill the great commandment of Christ, "Love thy neighbor as thyself"? We have been thinking about relations between one another in Russia both before the revolution and after it.

We are used to painting everything as either black or white. I think that this motion picture should not contain a sugarcoated idealization of the nation, nor scandalous disclosures. There are pros and cons. But most importantly, it seems to me that the film has such a love for Russia in it, but not a patriots fanfares. Love as a synonym for pain. I should also make mention that the look of the film is based on canvases of the Association of Wanderers. The frame itself dictates a style reminiscent of Myasoedov, Perov, Makovsky, and Solomatkin.

You see, this movie is not a sermon. It is just my outlook on Russia, on Russian history.