Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari
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Director: Aleksey Fedorchenko
2012, Russia, 106 minutes
In the follow-up to his breakout 2010 film Silent Souls, Aleksey Fedorchenko once again examines the lives and customs of the indigenous Mari people of Russia, a Volga-Finnic ethnic group whose religious beliefs are focused on the natural world. Whereas Silent Souls saw Fedorchenko undertaking a poetic and haunting meditation on life and death, Celestial Wives Of The Meadow Mari shows him cataloguing the bawdier side of Mari culture, with its fertility rites, ribald folklore, and romantic customs.
Neither documentary nor traditional narrative, the film is comprised of nearly two dozen vignettes, each detailing an aspect of the romantic and/or sexual lives of a particular female Mari, all of whom, oddly enough, have a name starting with the letter O. Each vignette is a carefully crafted cinematic set piece ranging in content from simple conversations between village women as they share hints on rather intimate ways to detect a mate’s infidelity, to scenes of magic realism involving libidinous ghosts run amok and a jealous spell-casting giantess! Each piece offers something new and surprising, often flirting with the outrageous.
Free from the confines of an overarching narrative, Fedorchenko is able to explore within the world he’s created. The multitude of characters, scenarios and tonal shifts throughout produce expressive and at times ecstatic results, creating an exhilarating and purely cinematic viewing experience that lingers long after watching. If one can imagine a collaboration between Robert Flaherty and Alejandro Jodorowsky, it might turn out something like this. (J. Scott Braid, 2014 MdFF Program Notes)
Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari plays Friday 1/19 7pm and Monday 1/22 at 7:30pm
In conjunction with the exhibition Fabergé and the Russian Crafts Tradition, the Walters Art Museum is teaming up with the Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) to present a week (January 19–25) of exciting Russian films from different eras and across genres. Filmed in a single take—the longest in cinema history—Russian Ark(2002, 99 mins.) is a drama that moves through the rooms of the famous Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, exploring 300 years of Russian history. This film will be shown at the Walters; others in the series, including The Scarlet Empress (1934) and Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (2012), will be screened at the SNF Parkway Theatre.