#6: The Asthenic Syndrome (1990)
There are many crowds in Kira Muratova’s Asthenic Syndrome (1990). Despite the film chronicling the last croak of Soviet socialism, the collective remains an important figure.
The opening shot is of a cortege of mourners. The party is quiet and traditional, but the wife’s sorrow can’t be contained by custom. We follow this crumbling woman, as she struggles to understand and communicate her loss. Then the world splits open. Zoom out. Colour. We’re in an auditorium. We’ve been watching the screening of a film, and now the director is on stage. The audience shuffle out quickly to avoid the Q&A, grumbling about the movie’s depressing themes. All that’s left is a garrison of soldiers and a dozing man. The rest of the film follows this narcoleptic teacher.
So where are the crowds? Commuters pass the foetal teacher, unconscious in a metro station. Melancholy dogs whimper behind thick bars, piled on top of each other, in a dirty pound. Impoverished Muscovites queue round the block for rotten fish. And here, in the scene above, the school council - staff, parents, governors - stare down the camera, poised to berate the sleeping comrade.
The Asthenic Syndrome is digressive, farcical, and wildly reflexive, commenting on the absurdity of Soviet artistic standards and the hypocrisy of Soviet society in general. It’s a long way from the socially-conscious realism of 60s and 70s Muratova. Despite their seemingly proletarian character, these earlier pictures were heavily censored. The Asthenic Syndrome is the emancipated vision of a filmmaker who, for the first time, could work without the threat of state interference.