Asya, is pregnant from the man she loves, but he won’t marry her. Potential suitors are wandering around like vultures but she resists all attempts…

Andrei Konchalovsky’s second feature, The Story of Asya Klyachina Who Loved But Did Not Marry (1966) is an amazing cinematic piece, a confirmation of his talent… but it was banned for two decades by the Soviet authorities. When it was shown at Berlin Film Fest in 1988, the director had made a few more films, won a Cannes jury prize in 1979 for Siberiada, and made a successful landing in Hollywood.

More than the romantic drama its title suggests, the film is a passionate elegy about the love of Russians for the (mother) land. Back behind the camera is gifted cinematographer Georgy Rerberg (Stalker, The Mirror) and the choreographed movements are more elaborate than in The First Teacher (Pervyy Uchitel, 1965), the previous effort by the duet. There is a great attention to detail. The camera travels from landscapes, props, objects hanging on the wall, telling a story in itself. Then it moves to people and their own personal stories,  entering and leaving the tight framing. It alternates from elaborate movements to interludes, in near documentary style, static shots, close ups of faces sculpted by the winds of time, with tragic beauty.

Non-professional actors narrate past rituals of life, love and death. It is what, ultimately, makes Yuri Klepikov daring screenplay (he co-scripted another Russian Gem, The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko, ten years later) come up as an effortless, but elaborate, narrative. It evolves through quasi-documentary biographical anecdotes, gathered from the protagonists by Konchalovsky, which offers a much welcome counterpoint. This makes the whole ensemble as realistic as it is transcendent.

The Story of Asya Klyachina Who Loved But Did Not Marry is one of the great jewels of Russian dramas.

*** The Story of Asya Klyachina is part of the Andrei Konchalovsky 5 films Retrospective running from October 16-22 at Montreal Cinémathèque Québécoise.