Tuesday 25 March 2014

The Asthenic Syndrome [1989]

The Asthenic Syndrome, Kira Muratova’s audacious, darkly comic and decidedly obscure magnum opus, is considered as one of the most important films to have come out during the Perestroika years, even if, ironically, it was censored and almost banned by the state in direct contradiction to what the term Glasnost stood for. Though not an easy film to watch, leave alone comprehend – facets that have made this a criminally under-watched film, its anarchic power, subversive wit, lacerating humour and underhanded sociopolitical commentary are immediately palpable. In an interesting decision that also added self-reflexive touches to the proceedings, the narrative was divided into 2 unequal halves – the 1st a film within a film, and the 2nd the film itself – both chronicling collective stupor, ennui and neurosis of the most rabid kind, reflecting the kind of stasis that Muratova perceived Soviet Union to be in. The 1st segment, shot in faded and sepia-toned monochrome, is a 40-minute short about Natasha (Olga Antonova), an attractive middle-aged lady whose sanity and stability come crashing down when her husband, an eerie Stalin-lookalike, suddenly dies. The 2nd segment, shot in colour, comprised of a host of idiosyncratic characters, with the principal among them being Nikolai (Sergei Popov), a middle-aged high school teacher afflicted with narcolepsy. The 2 segments, therefore, blurred the line between the reel and the real. Despite the kind of gleeful ludicrosity that the characters and their social interactions were laced with, the tone was decidedly bleak and morose, thus stressing on the wryly funny but essentially dismal ironies that Soviet life had come to be.

Director: Kira Muratova
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Avant-Garde
Language: Russian
Country: Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union)


Sam Juliano said...

Obsure and bizarre, this is certainly a kind of avante-garde, and it cries out for multiple viewings. It is some kind of a masterpiece though, and you have really uncovered some of the context here!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. Great to know your opinion about this little known gem, too, is so highly positive. And yes, it does cry out for multiple viewings. The opening segment, by the way, was the kind of red herring that Hitchcock would have been particularly proud of.