Moscow back then was a different planet from our American world. It was, as seen in "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears," (1980) a place where single women by the thousands lived three-to-a-room in worker dorms and the rise of Yevgenii Yevtushenko was dinner party discussion material – the pop culture of its time and place. At a wedding dinner, one member guest remarks, in disbelief, that in the West people pay someone to cook a wedding dinner or go to a restaurant, instead of using good home cooking.
Despite an unfamiliar setting, the story outline should feel cozily familiar to viewers. It's a variety of the working girl makes good plot, eight years before "Working Girl." What's more, romantic travails are the same everywhere.
The movie begins with the three roommates. One is a country girl, happy to marry a humble boy from the country. The second is obsessed with escaping the working class by marrying someone of privilege. She’s the one who looks for a poet, but winds up with a hockey player – a star who makes her happy, but not for long.
The third is our protagonist, Katerina, a sterling factory worker who aspires to study chemistry, but is derailed by a pregnancy and is abandoned by the cad who seduced her. She mourns her situation, but never pities herself.
Her two old roommates still make for contrasts that sharpen our view of Katerina. One still aspires to marry rich, saying she's always ready to play the lottery. When asked if she's ever won, she says, yes, twice. One ruble each time. The other friend is still happy with her humble husband and his ancient auto.
Katerina, though economically solid, still doesn’t have love she deserves, instead enduring bad dates and married men until she meets a brazen, but oddly engaging fellow on the train. Goga cooks, he's thoughtful and is the center of a crowd of loyal friends. She winds up so smitten – and her teenage daughter loves Goga's quirks, too – that she can forgive him for saying a woman should never earn more than her man.
Afraid to lose him, she doesn’t enlighten him about her status, either. He assumes she’s "just" a smart, talented and beautiful middle-aged union woman. The misunderstanding leads to the story's final crisis and its odd, but quintessentially Russian resolution.
I have to admit that part of my love for this film – I’ve seen it three times -- is nostalgia for Moscow in the 1980s, when I made a couple of visits there. Dank communal apartments, crowded Metro stops, tapestries hung on walls, country gardens – it all comes back. Given that it's the last years of Brezhnev, however, the movie leaves out many of the negatives of Soviet life. the market where Katerina shops, for example, looks too well stocked.
Nevertheless, this is a sweet and good movie – deserving of the Oscar it won when it came out in the U.S. If you rent it, I'd love to hear what you think.