Thursday, May 28, 2020

WINGS (Larisa Shepitko, 1966, Soviet Union)

Nadezhda has become an anachronism, an old colorless photograph displayed as museum exhibit to be gawked at and superficially honored while grounded forever. Though she was a fighter ace during the Great Patriotic War, her exploits still applauded, she is still a single woman in Patriarchal society, given only genial approval and denied the basic rights extended to lesser men. As a school principle, she lives a humdrum life of post-war readjustment, a single woman who never married and is not allowed to enter a restaurant unescorted, while one of her expelled male students is offered this intrinsic right. This feminist split from male entitlement is the dichotomy is at the heart of the film; the rights of women trampled beneath the boots of a sole-less Socialism where the dead male hero is more acclaimed than the living Nadezhda.

Director Larisa Shepitko gloriously frames the sharp beauty of her protagonist and seems to question her sexuality: in one scene, Nadezhda dances with another woman in a spasm of spontaneity that temporarily frees her from human bondage, while men leer ominously through a glass darkly. She is awkward in social settings, unsure of her role and boundaries, often being more aggressive and stern than her male counterparts. She had adopted a daughter but has no Motherly instinct, unable to emotionally or intellectually relate: she believed that raising a little girl will help her to assimilate but it only brings the pain of distance and regrets. Shepitko lets her heroine drift amid the clouds, the vaporous rapture embracing her like a lover before dissipating into memory. She was in love once and we experience her trauma through flashbacks with desperate freeze-frames, as he was killed in action…and she helpless and isolated, watching from the cockpit of her own plane.

Nadezhda is denied the privilege to fly again simply because she’s a woman and she often drifts back to the airfield to speak with her comrades. Finally, she claws her way into an aircraft and the students gather around, playfully pushing her like a child in a toy car, cheering for her last “flight”. This grim and debasing metaphor almost ends in the dark tomb of a hanger…before she takes control of the metal coffin and soars towards the heavens and her salvation.