Wings is another masterpiece from Larisa Shepitko. I hope I can find more of her work. There’s something of Ozu in her delicate touch; it also made me think of Umberto D.
Mayya Bulgakova plays Nadya, a schoolmistress who dreams of her days as a fighter pilot. Mayya deflects suitors, visits her adopted daughter, clashes with a student, and wanders.
Like The Ascent this is a humanist film featuring a quiet, shy protagonist, struggling to command respect and find meaning in the task or life at hand. While that later film is war-set, Wings is postwar. And while The Ascent is also very much about maintaining one’s humanity and morality in the face of overwhelmingly harsh circumstances, Wings runs parallel to it, and replaces said circumstances with overwhelming banality.
Transcendental is a good word for both films. Wings doesn’t strive for any religious allegory, but it does spend so much time with Nadya alone, and so much time in close-up on Bulgakova’s perfectly and subtly expressive face, that by the time there is some catharsis it feels much larger than the same scene would have were it 30 minutes earlier.
Wings is also about a generation divide. Nadya is a loyal Communist subject who can’t imagine being without a job – she can’t quit hers just to follow her dream. It’d be antithetical to how she learned. Her daughter is the opposite, and Nadya finds it hard to bridge that gap. A scene with her daughter, her new son-in-law, and their friends is beautifully awkward (as are many scenes where Nadya interacts with anyone), and Shepitko frames it as such, pitting Nadya in the middle of a scene, surrounded by people much younger than she:
In fact, much of Wings is Nadya talking to people who seem to want to get away from her (as in the case of a student/reporter)-
-or talking to people that she wants to get away from.There’s only one moment where she truly seems at ease, and of course it’s with someone random and not from her past (which haunts her so much). It’s with a female bartender at a restaurant (side note: Wings is also about the male-female divide. Nadya seems to encounter many women who she either can’t relate to or, at least, doesn’t aspire to):
There’s a restless energy to Wings and Shepitko’s restless camera reflects that. Aside from the gorgeous aerial cinematography that’s cut throughout, or the dreamlike flashback full of freeze frames and a disembodied voice, the most striking visuals are some of the director’s unexpected camera movements.
Here, Nadya goes to her old air base to speak to a friend, bringing along the children she babysits.
Shepitko costumes Nadya in all white to offset her from the military that she longs to be a part o. The camera starts in a wide and quickly dollies in (shot #2 above). Instead of just straight pushing forward, it dollies and tracks around Nadya in a full circle, eventually finding her friend coming behind her (shot #3), and pulls back out into a new wide, now behind the seated soldiers (shot #4).
It’s masterful blocking, made fluid by people leaving the frame, the well-timed entrance of her friend, and the speed of the movement. It’s also energetic and, as mentioned, restless. Nadya here is playing the demure housewife, far from what she desires to be, and the kinetic camera says as much.