Russian actress, critic talk revolution

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Photo by Joyce Xi.

For Yale’s Russian film enthusiasts, a Monday night screening provided a glimpse into a period of Russian history unfamiliar to many Americans.

Popular Russian actress Darya Yekamasova spoke to an audience of about 40 Yale students, professors and members of the New Haven community in a question-and-answer session after the screening of her new film, “Once Upon a Time There Lived a Simple Woman.” Along with Irina Pavlova, a film critic and director of the Russian film program in the Moscow International Film Festival, Yekamasova discussed in Russian the emotionally loaded film depicting the Russian Revolution.

“Once Upon a Time There Lived a Simple Woman” depicts life during the early 20th century through the eyes of a peasant woman, Varvara, played by Yekamasova. The story follows Varvara’s struggle to survive a period of Russian history characterized in the film by violence, rape and desperation.

The Renova Group, a Russian investment company that promotes the arts and is sponsoring the ongoing Russian Film Week in New York, brought the event to Yale as part of its efforts to build stronger relations between the United States and Russia.

Monday’s screening aimed to expose students to a different cinematic and cultural tradition, said Raisa Sidenova GRD ’14, a film studies student and the co-curator of Yale’s Slavic Film Colloquium — a group that brings experts in Russian film to campus.

“Events like this provide a unique opportunity for Yale students to be up-to-date about world cinema and foreign culture in general,” Sidenova said. “It is a way for them to learn about historical events, but also learn how to look critically at film and cinematic representation.”

After the screening, Yekamasova and Pavlova answered questions that ranged from the ways in which Yekamasova prepared for her role to possible symbolic interpretations of her character. The discussion became heated when a member of the audience disputed the historical accuracy of the film, only to be refuted by Vladimir Alexandrov, a Yale professor of Russian literature.

“I thought it was a very strong film,” said Alexandrov. “I think it’s a story that needed to be told.”

Despite his praise of the film, Alexandrov said he thought the film presumed a knowledge of the relevant history. Therefore, he said he doubted whether an American audience could fully appreciate it.

Russian journalist Dimitry Saltykovsky, who was visiting New Haven, agreed, saying the film appeals to a niche audience.

“I wouldn’t say it’s for the mass audience; it’s made for people who are ready to … think and analyze,” said Saltykovsky, who currently resides in Toronto. “It was definitely the Russian community of Yale that came to watch the film.”

Though the audience numbered over 40, only two students stayed for the duration of the event.

“It probably would have been nice to have more students from the Department of History present,” Saltykovsky said. “The film considers a certain period of Russian history that really had a large impact.”

Later this month, the Slavic Film Colloquium will host a lecture on Russian television, delivered by Elena Prokhorova, a professor at the College of William and Mary.

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