Little Moscow (Mala Moskwa) was the opening film of the QFT’s 2010 Polish film festival- Kinoteka On Tour 4. Directed by Waldemar Krzystek, it’s the story of marital infidelity and troubled occupation in Legnica, the Soviet headquarters in Poland between 1945 and 1990, known as ‘Little Moscow.’ Wiera (Svetlana Khodchenkova), the beautiful wife of Russian commander Jura (Dmitri Ulyanov), isn’t in Legnica long before she is wooed by Polish officer Michal (Leslaw Zurek). The affair has unfortunate consequences, flying in the face of the awkward Russian-Polish relations, which emphasize acceptance but not fraternization.
The film has a lot of potential. Alongside Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn, Little Moscow was one of Poland’s biggest productions in recent years. Visually, it looks great with period costumes, settings and technology. The script exhibits some clever writing and the score is fantastic, albeit better suited for a thriller. The performances are all very good. Even the opening credits promise something exciting and entertaining, looking like a throwback to the big and loud credits of 1970s thrillers. The problem is that none of these elements come together.
The pace is kept to a minimum and things go on for too long. A speedy 90-minuter might have been a great film, but Krzystek seems to think slow and long-winded is the best way to tug at our heartstrings. Having taken a leaf out of The Reader’s book, he has delivered something emotionally confusing, rather than powerful. We are certain that we should be worried about the mess that the characters get themselves into, but we don’t. There is also a very typical modern-day storyline in which the ‘survivors’ exchange troubled looks and talk about ‘what happened that day.’ This common feature of period dramas has always confused me. We can’t emphasise as we haven’t been told what happened that day yet. It feels like an attempt at extra resonance but really it’s a means to lengthen the film, and advertise how powerful the ending will be. And, in the case of Little Moscow, it isn’t.
The film also brings back some memories that makes the film appear comical. The older Jura looks like a scrubbed up Groucho Marx, and the film as a whole brings to mind barmy and fun Glorious 39, a recent period drama that was rich and entertaining in the vein of Hitchcock’s spy thrillers. Glorious 39 was hampered by a similarly unnecessary modern-day storyline and the ridiculous endings, both of which Little Moscow recalls.
Sadly, the film hints at the end of art house European cinema. It looks, sounds and plays like a Hollywood drama, when what you came to see was something more challenging and thought-provoking.