The news out of Russia these days is dismaying, but for the past couple of years I’ve been sampling some of the great cinema that has come out of there. With the help of Netflix’s DVD library I just discovered “Wings,” and it’s a masterpiece. Like Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” it’s very specific about the details of daily life, but it also transcends time and place in its portrayal of the human condition.
Maya Bulgakova is a former fighter pilot ace who, 20 years after the war, is a high school principal in a provincial town. Full of energy and authority, but not college educated, nor an intellectual, she’s a frustrated fish-out-of-water. She’s a local celebrity, but she keeps shooting herself in the foot when dealing with the important people in her life, especially her daughter. This movie follows her for several days, starting with the state awarding her a medal, and continuing onto a crisis with a troubled student. She proudly tells her daughter that she’s always gone where the state has sent her, and done her job without question – but will she finally start confronting her own emotions? Get ready to tear up at the cathartic finale.
Maya is superb in the title role, and the entire cast is great. This is the first time I’ve seen something directed by Larisa Shepitko, and now she’s one of my heroes!