Famed Russian idiosyncrat Kira Muratova might just be the world's most inhospitable filmmaker, demanding (and getting) respect as a living anti-thesis to the usual introverted subtlety of international art cinema. She is certainly the only working director whose work is commonly described as irritating, abusive, and obfuscatory by her own crazed fan base. Always a troublesome but beloved figure in her own country, particularly since she's been free to run amok in the fields of her own manias after years of Soviet struggle, Muratova is becoming a prominent fixture in the cinema-set forebrain, what with a traveling retro this year and now several DVDs emanating straight from Moscow. Chekhovian Motifs (2002) is in many senses classic Muratova, a perverse trial by fire derived largely from Chekhov's Tatiana Repina, in which members of a glowering Russian familystuck in a rather Tarrian steppe-scapesquabble ritualistically about money and their lives before the clan's foppish college-age son detours to a nearby Orthodox wedding, where he, and we, sit with the overbearing congregation for the next hour. You could call this a fierce distanciation, if it weren't so crazily claustrophobic.
Also available, the lushly photographed, Russian-Oscar-winning Passions (1994) has a slightly different program: Follow a pack of extroverted, Fellini-esque nutlogs to a horse farm, where they vamp, flirt, and blabber about horses, love, and life. "It's like somebody nudges me and whispers: Ask themwill they bear it?" one character says, summarizing Muratova's wacky strategy. Given Muratova's degree of irrational meta-ness, the surrealists would've loved her.