Kira Muratova, the 70-year-old Ukraine-based director whose Walter Reade retrospective (through March 10) is boldly titled “Take No Prisoners,” has a gift for dramatizing disintegration. Muratova’s best-known film, The Asthenic Syndrome (1989), evokes the breakdown of Soviet reality more prophetically than any movie of the perestroika period; her extraordinary second feature, Long Farewells (1971), which opens the retro along with her debut, the new wave romantic triangle Brief Encounters (1967), concerns the collapse of a particular family relationship. The study of a neurotic mother’s attempt to hold on to her diffident adolescent son imploded Muratova’s career as well—it was not only banned, as Brief Encounters had been, but she was expelled from the Filmmakers’ Union and unable to work for a biblical seven years.
Daughter of Russian-Romanian “underground” Communists, Muratova has always denied that she is a social critic. “I’m apolitical. I believe in art for art’s sake,” she told journalist Judy Stone in 1987, the year Long Farewells finally came off the shelf. What exactly was the problem? Long Farewells is self-consciously Chekhovian in mood but suavely mod in its eccentric framing and disjunctive vertical montage. The narrative is clear enough, although it advances through repetitions, coincidences, and Freudian slips. Neither the chatterbox mother nor her sullen son is particularly likable but Muratova makes the former’s need to escape and the latter’s fear of abandonment indelible. Did the mother’s disconcerting antic behavior strike the censors as frivolous? One can only conclude that, as the Soviet Union lumbered into the swamp of Brezhnev stagnation, Muratova’s exceedingly spry and talented movie was censored for the sin of originality.