After studying in the workshop of Dovchenko and Romm, Shepitko graduated from VGIK in 1963. After an impressive diploma work (Heat) she directed Wings, a complex character study that eschewed cliche to depict the emotional gap that develops between a proud, professional woman and her estranged daughter. Though praised by critics, Wings received only a limited release by Soviet authorities. Her next project was a short film for the omnibus Beginning of an Unknown Era called “Homeland of Electricity”. Produced by Mosfilm’s ill-fated Experimental Studio, it was shelved by censors and wasn’t released until after Shepitko’s death. The high point of her career came with Ascent, which won the Golden Bear at Venice in 1977. After dying in a tragic accident in 1979, her final project, Farewell, was completed by her husband, Elem Klimov, using her script. —Seagull Films
Where is the short Nachalo nevedomogo veka/The Onset of an Unknown Age on MUBI? It's on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yAWXXqWVdg
'Wings' is one of the greatest portraits of a woman in the cinema. Yes it is difficult to avoid hyperbole when you are talking about Shepitko's work. This film manages to achieve, that difficult task, a woman's complex interiority is revealed almost enirely by staging and framing. Slabnevich's (cinematographer) muted monochrome often produces the effect of old snapshots that then reveal the formal aesthetics of the staged photograph. Maya Bulgakova is a revelation as the provincial apperatchick who was once a great fighter pilot, a hero of the USSR. Her life is now dominated by the quotidian social niceties of the small town where she is headmistress of the local secondary school. What is most impressive is the ways in which the audience are allowed to understand the complexities of her vision, even when she finds herself, as she often does, in situations that raise her self-consciousness to a kind of embarrasment. Because we know she is complex, her seeming girlishness is all the more affective. Bulgakova has high cheekbones and strong jaw but this is off-set by her small expressive nose and beautifully soft eyes that she squints to offer a mask of severity which is hard to believe is any more than that. It is here, in the sensitive one shot close ups of her, thinking, dreaming, remembering that the film finds its expressive centre. Her life is represented as rooted on the earth but her aspirations are still in the clouded heavens. The soaring shots of the sky, effectively blue even in this monochrome film, as moments of personal reverie produce the sense of a woman with her head in the clouds, literally. But Comrade Petrukhina (Bulgakova) is a woman who understands that she has duties both personal and professional and it is in this dialectic of the duty and the dream that 'Wings' posseses its real genius, tender and sympathetic and yet always with the critical aesthetic of the positioning of the camera in relation to its subject the film delivers much more than the sum of its parts. It deserves a detailed study, if for nothing other than its wonderful finale.