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USSR, 1966 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky

Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, brother of Nikica Mikhalkov, has of late been working outside of the Soviet Union on a number of American financed projects such as Mario's Lovers, Shy People and the brilliant Runaway Train. His earlier films (Siberiode, A Nest of Genlry, Uncle Vanya) will be well known to festival audiences, as are those of his colleague Andrei Tarko vsky with whom he graduated from the VGIK film school in 1961 and later worked with on Andrei Rublev. The long delayed release of his third feature Asya's Happiness now confirms his talents.

Asya's Happiness, Konchalovsky's greatest film, was banned for more than 20 years for daring to tell the truth about Russian peasantry — mired in mud, alcohol, inefficiency, and neglect. Gorbachev himself screened Asya's Happiness in 1987 to authorise its release, calling it one of the best films he had seen in ten years.

The film celebrates the endurance and spiritual strength of Asya, a crippled farm girl, who is cruelly abused by the boy she loves, and lives through a terrible personal ordeal utterly alone and in typical ratal poverty. The great actress lya Savina gives a luminous, heart-stopping performance as Asya. Most of the other performers are non-professionals — gnarled, prematurely aged, tattooed, fingers missing, haunted by memories of the Gulag — who proved embarrassing to the authorities of 1966. How could a hunchback play a collective farm chairman? (In fact, the hunchback actor was in real life a collective farm chairman!)

There are moments of beauty and revelation in Asya's Happiness that could only come from real people struggling in harsh circumstances to keep alive a sense of humanity, humour and justice. - Tom Luddy

See also: Breakfast On The Gross/From Russia With Rock/Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky/Pictures Of The Old War/Cold War.

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