Asya's Happiness | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Asya's Happiness 

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Originally entitled The Story of Asya Machina, Who Loved a Man but Did Not Marry Him Because She Was Proud, Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky's remarkable 1967 depiction of life on a collective farm, one of his best films, was shelved by Soviet authorities for 20 years, apparently because its crippled heroine is pregnant but unengaged and because the overall depiction of Soviet rural life is decidedly less than glamorous. (The farm chairman, for instance, played by an actual farm chairman, is a hunchback.) When Gorbachev himself recently screened the film to authorize its release, he called it one of the best films he'd seen in ten years, which suggests that he's a much better film critic than our own ruling movie buff. Working with beautiful black-and-white photography and a cast consisting mainly of local nonprofessionals (apart from the wonderful Iya Savina as Asya and a couple others), Konchalovsky offers one of the richest and most realistic portrayals of the Russian peasantry ever filmed, working in an unpretentious style that occasionally suggests a Soviet rural counterpart to the early John Cassavetes. Many of the men in the cast relate anecdotes about war and postwar experiences that are gripping and authentic, the interworkings of the community are lovingly detailed, and the handling of the heroine and her boyfriends is refreshingly candid without ever being didactic or sensationalist. Episodic in structure and leisurely paced, the film is never less than vibrant and compelling. A Chicago premiere. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 15, 6:00, and Sunday, July 17, 8:15, 443-3737)

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