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Moscow does Not Believe in Tears
Vladimir Kozlov

This year, the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most successful late-Soviet movies, ‘Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears’ (‘Moskva Slezam Ne Verit’) is celebrated. The strongest point of that hybrid of the Cinderella story and a classic Hollywood melodrama was the main female characters, both likable and realistic, with whom millions of Soviet women were able to identify. Even today, the movie remains one of the most popular “female” stories in the Soviet/post-Soviet cinema.

The script, written by Valentin Chernykh, was more than simple. In the late 1950s, three provincial girls, Katerina (Vera Alentova), Lyudmila (Irina Muravyova) and Antonina (Raisa Ryazanova), come to Moscow to conquer the capital. They share the same room in a dormitory, as well as dreams of meeting a handsome young Muscovite and marrying him.

To make their dreams come true, the girls are ready to go to almost any lengths. When Katerina is asked by her wealthy relatives to stay in their apartment and look after it while they go away, she and Lyudmila pretend that they are actually living there, being daughters of a prosperous professor, and throw a party, inviting potential Muscovite husbands.

Katerina’s luck seems to turn when she meets television cameraman Rudolf (Yuri Vasilyev) and they apparently fall for each other, but upon learning about the fraud, Rudolf dumps Katerina who by then is expecting a child. The episode accentuates the unavoidable importance of the Kvartirny Vopros (the accommodation issue) which pervaded every aspect of life in the Soviet Union.

Then the movie leaps forward some twenty years, to the late 1970s, which was the present at the time it was made, showing Katerina as a prosperous boss of a large factory, leaving with her now 20-year old daughter Alexandra (Natalya Vavilova), but still unmarried and unhappy in her personal life, reduced to having an affair with an older married man. Soon enough, another man, Gosha (Aleksey Batalov), arrives in her life, but it is going to take a while for him to come to terms with the fact that he, a simple worker, is dating a woman who is much higher than him on the society ladder.

While the first part is basically a Cinderella story that goes wrong when the girls choose to cheat instead of patiently waiting for their “prince,” the second part is a traditional melodrama, quite in line with Hollywood story plots, involving money, social status and “true love.” The two parts seemed to work well together, and the combination, complemented with lots of 1950s and 1970s details and a universally understandable story line about a provincial who comes to the capital, proved to be a success.

‘Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears’ became the Soviet box office champion in 1980, with more than 90 million admissions, and the Soviet Union’s second-highest grossing movie of all times, surpassed only by ‘Piraty Dvadtsatogo Veka’ (‘Pirates of the 20th Century’), a movie made along the lines of Hollywood action films, which was released the same year.

Interestingly, Soviet cinema bosses were originally less than impressed with the picture, criticising it for promoting decadent values and playing on audiences’ feelings. But the movie’s international recognition and domestic box-office success lead to an official recognition as well: in 1981, Menshov, Alentova, Ryazanova, Muravyova, Batalov and set designer Sayid Menyalshchikov were awarded the state prize.

Meanwhile, the movie turned out to have the potential of travelling across the Iron Curtain. ‘Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears’, directed by Vladimir Menshov, for whom it was only the second feature, was invited to the official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival and later released in a dozen foreign countries, including the United States, France and West Germany. Its international success reached the highest point with an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980, winning over Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha” and François Truffaut’s “The Last Metro” and becoming the third ever Soviet movie to take the prestigious award (and the last one before the collapse of the Soviet Union). According to some reports, US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times before his first meeting with the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s in a bid to gain a better understanding of the “mysterious Russian soul”.

Today the film is still a tear-jerker, and if you want to find out a bit more of what life used to like here, it is well worth seeing. The film is usually shown on television at this time of year, or you can find it without too much trouble in the classics section of most DVD shops.

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