This debut pic from Larisa Shepitko (a rare female director @ MosFilm, who died young after her fourth & final film, THE ASCENT/’77, ) sports a worthy theme, but wayward execution. Maya Bulgakova gives a fussy perf as a former fighter pilot who can’t (or doesn’t want to) let go of past glories. With an adopted daughter who can’t be bothered to have her meet a new husband; a cultivated suitor who can’t compete with the glamorous pilot she lost in the war; a new generation of fly-boys she envies; and pain-in-the-neck disrespectful teens at the provincial high school she runs, she’ll either breakthrough or breakdown. Bulgakova, perhaps because she’s a decade too young, overplays with tiny hesitations & awkward attempts to connect, nibbling inconclusively at the role. Everyone else brings the usual Russian enthusiasm, they’re less actors than tour guides to character tics. (Though her school assistant has a spot on horrible sports jacket you can believe in.) In back of the camera, Shepitko shows little of the technical command she gained (to judge by the first half of THE ASCENT), with a frame that’s too tight and angles that miss bringing out the film’s dense cross-current relationships. A disappointment.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: William Wyler’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES/’46 deals with similar issues, with those impatient Americans taking 6 months, rather than 20 years, to reach the boiling point. But Shepitko switches gears with an ending right out of Albert Lamorisse’s classic short THE WHITE MANE/’53.