Ahorn | Tuesday April 25th, 2017
Maybe sometimes it’s really more about the question than the answer.
In the musical Fiddler On the Roof, Tevya the milkman, after many years of marriage, suddenly asks his wife if she loves him. Taken aback she replies:
“Do I love you?
For twenty-five years, I’ve washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
Given you children, milked the cow.
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”
Not so surprisingly this exchange between two peasants living in the little village of Anatevka is not so different than the conversation that goes on down on the farm somewhere out there in today’s Siberian countryside in Olga Delane’s documentary, “Siberian Love”.
Delane, who lives in Berlin, has come home to visit her extended family and as soon as she sits down to the dinner table she starts getting hocked about why she, at 37, is not yet married. “There’s plenty of hot guys here in the village” her cousin Sasha, the patriarch, assures her. “And if you stop wearing such long skirts you’ll be happier as a woman”. Meanwhile his wife, Ira, is telling her that a woman is not complete unless she has children. Clearly we are witnessing the age-old familial/cultural disconnect as city girl Delane tries to figure out how love figures into it all.
And on the surface it seems not to. Ira says she doesn’t know what that means. Another woman says she can’t even remember how she and her husband met. Out in the kitchen, the old toothless grandma talks about how in the old days men were so cruel that they could literally beat a woman to death. But instead of commiserations of sorrow, the other women start laughing and point out that grandma is till alive to tell the tale. “If any man came at me I’d hit him with the frying pan!” she proudly exclaims. And then they all start laughing again.
The men don’t want to talk about it either. When asked about what they think of their wives, one says she is a nag. Another one calls his wife a human washing machine, always washing clothes. And then, they too, all start laughing.
For a bunch of country folk, everyone is constantly ready with a zinger even if they seem to walk around with long faces all the time. Shoveling mud, hauling wood, slopping the hogs, clearly life is hard work, but also clearly they are all in it together. Golya says she and her husband yell at each other all the time but then 15 minuets later they’re making up. “Is that love,” she asks?
To make another cultural reference, the film felt to me kind of like Harvey Pekar’s comic American Splendor, small mundane adventures of random confrontations, annoyances, and occasional little victories, like jokes that don’t quite resolve themselves in a punch line, but leave you with a feeling of having shared the experience with someone you never met.
In the end I realized that while love was not a word that people seemed to use or connect with, the one word they constantly brought up over the course of the film was “happiness”. Maybe sometimes it’s really more about the question than the answer.
Andrew Horn, Berlin-based filmmaker (The Nomi Song, We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!, The Big Blue), producer (East Side Story) and writer, is on the look out for interesting – and not so interesting – movies at this year’s edition of Achtung Berlin – new berlin film award.
Films from past editions of the festival can be found in the Achtung Berlin channel on realeyz.de
Image Description: ““There’s plenty of hot guys here in the village”.