Originally scheduled to be part of a season of Soviet Sixties films, Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko’s Wings was turned into a special event at the Cine Lumiere in London’s South Kensington on Tuesday March 15.
While the season was understandably scrapped, the screening of Wings was turned into a fund raising evening for With Ukraine.
The film resonates on so many levels. Shepitko was born in the Ukraine’s Donetsk province (now controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces) in 1938 and was forced to flee along with her mother and two siblings when the Nazi thugs invaded. The experience scarred her. As she once remarked: ‘The impression of a global calamity certainly left an indelible mark in my child’s mind.’
As her husband Elem Klimov (also a successful film director), remarked: ‘With her family, she had gone through all the hardships of the time. Air raids, hunger, work unfit for a child. Those impressions can never be forgotten: they burn you, and remain with you forever.’ How apt.
Shepitko graduated from the prestigious Russian State University of Cinematography) (VGIK) in Moscow, studying for a while under the tutelage of Ukrainian screenwriter Oleksandr Dovzhenko. She later said she felt great kinship with her teacher.
The film was introduced by Peter Bradshaw, outstanding film critic for the Guardian, and Dr Rachel Morley of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. Bradshaw said Shepitko’s work ‘speaks to us’ and he drew comparison with her fleeing from Nazi menace and Vladimir Putin’s absurd (vile) description of Ukrainians as Nazis.
Morley paid homage to Shepitko’s talent as a film director – directing her first full length feature film (Wings) in 1966 at the tender age of 27 (she tragically died in a car accident at the tender age of 41).
‘The film is about war,’ she said. ‘Loss in war. The trauma it causes and the problems in overcoming it.’ Again, parallels with today’s tragic and devastating events in Ukraine. ‘No to war,’ Dr Morley exclaimed. Absolutely.
Wings is a rather gentle film, charting the difficulties that Nadezhda (Nadia) Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) faces assimilating back into Soviet society after being a pilot (a decorated one) in the Second World War.
Although an important cog in society (she is a head teacher), she dreams of her flying days and the love she had for fellow pilot Mitya who was killed in action.
She suffers age discrimination (one pupil in particular takes against her), has a rather difficult relationship with her adopted daughter, and pushes away the affections of Pasha, curator of a local museum where there is a picture of Nadia as a war heroine. She is also barred from going into a bar without a male escort.
Shot in black and white, it’s a beautiful and in many ways a sentimental film. There is one wonderful scene where she spontaneously dances with a woman in her food and beer shop. The dreamy images of the view she had flying high in the sky add a surrealness to the film.
Nadia is a free spirit and the ending emphasises that very point as she flies off into the distance.
A night where tribute was made to a great Ukrainian filmmaker who thrived in Soviet Russia. An indictment of the murderous course of action currently being pursued in the Ukraine by a megalomaniac.