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  • Benjamin May

Afonya (1975) Review

It is the 1970's and Afanasy Borshchov- Afonya to his friends- is a cynical, jovial plumber living in the city of Yaroslavl. He and his compatriots spend the days shirking their responsibilities, womanizing and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. After a night of philandering, his girlfriend leaves him, and his life begins to fall apart. In a precipitous personal decline, he meets a young nurse who seems to see only the good in him- but whether Afonya will seize this opportunity for happiness or squander it is entirely in the hands of fate, as well as a bottle of vodka.

Directed by Georgiy Daneliya and featuring a screenplay from Alexander Borodyanski, 'Afonya' is an affecting comedy-drama that successfully balances the serious with the absurd. The story is grounded in reality- despite containing scenes of high comedy- featuring many unpredictable moments of authenticity, as well as an ending full of dramatic power and emotional weight.

Borodyanski's characters are tragic figures struggling to find some meaning in their oftentimes directionless lives. They drown their sorrows in liquor and take up company with wretches as miserable and as disillusioned as themselves. 'Afonya' is sad, but meaningful; reflecting a Soviet society that really couldn't care about its' citizens, as well as citizens none too pleased with their society.

'Afonya' is shot by Sergei Vronsky and his naturalistic cinematography captures the starkness and decrepitude of the 70's USSR in a powerful, understated manner. His is not ostentatious camerawork, it is subtler, he lets the images speak for themselves without manipulation in terms of composition or movement.

Production designer Boris Nemechek and set designer Eleonora Nemechek highlight the barren, run down nature of the Soviet era infrastructure with their minimal but evocative work. The spaces in 'Afonya' look long lived in and well on their way to destruction. Overall, the film is an atmospheric and technical powerhouse, which is not even to mention Tatyana Egorycheva's tight editing or the brilliant costume design from Tatyana Razumovskaya.

The movie also features an emotive Mieczyslaw Weinberg score that contributes to the gritty, sometimes despairing tone established by the muted cinematography and sparse set-design. This is not to say that his score is heavy or depressing, because at times it's quite rousing (particularly during the first half of the movie) and is consistently, pleasingly melodic. The song 'Dear Che' is particularly memorable and utilized to brilliant effect in a drunken dance scene that ranks alongside the best of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly in its intensity if not in its technical intricacy or grace.

Leonid Kuravlyov stars as the titular hard-drinking plumber and his performance is one of much depth, wit and intelligence. His Afonya is a well-rounded, multi-layered character that is full of surprises. Just when you think you understand him, another piece of his past is revealed, which adds more complexity to the role and to Kuravlyov's performance.

Funny at times and pitiful at others, Afonya is an utterly realistic cinematic creation who has the audience's sympathies throughout the film, despite being such a selfish rogue. In fact, many viewers might see something of themselves in the character- for better or worse- and Kuravlyov is unforgettable bringing him to life.

The supporting cast are all excellent- from Yevgeny Leonov's hilarious turn as a friend of Afonya's who comes to stay with him to Nina Maslova as a beautiful woman the plumber fantasises about. Yevgeniya Simonova's performance as the young nurse Katya is the most striking. Simonova was only twenty when the film was shot and she underplays the role, approaching it with the maturity and understanding of a much older and more experienced actress. She and Kuravlyov share an electric chemistry and it's a real treat watching them work together.

In short, Georgiy Daneliya's 'Afonya' is an entertaining, utterly believable movie that can elicit laughter and tears in equal measure from the audience. Powerfully acted and directed- not to mention featuring a fine, unpredictable screenplay and story from Alexander Borodyanski- the film is a peek behind the Iron Curtain that is uniquely memorable and utterly marvelous. If you haven't seen it before now, go watch it: 'Afonya' is not to be missed.


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