After a funeral, Natasha is angry with everyone alive, quits her job and pisses off people in the street. After forty minutes of this, the movie-in-a-movie ends and Olga, its lead actress, comes on stage to complete audience indifference. “I’m already sad and tired from work. I’d like to have fun, listen to some music instead of watching such movies.”
Destructive tendencies in the film-in-a-film:
Narcoleptic Nikolai is in the audience. He’s a schoolteacher along with round, blonde Irina. To be truthful, that’s about all I can be sure of. Plenty else happens in the movie, but I’m not sure to whom, and for what reason. It’s kind of a comedy, but seems to be serious underneath. The title seems appropriate (asthenia: abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy). You could also have called it Everybody Is Unbearable. Very talky, with wall-to-wall chatter in half the scenes, languid in others.
Irina attempts “strangers in the night”:
Won a prize at Berlin. The distributor calls it an “impressionistic portrait of the USSR reaching the end of its tether.” Senses calls it a “demented masterpiece,” and goes on to note: “it is interesting to note that while the rest of the world celebrated the fall of communism, the reaction of the people actually living under Soviet rule wasn’t as simple; people felt very confused, and their overall behaviour was – and still is – reminiscent of the asthenic syndrome of the film, alternatively violent and repressed. Even though Asthenic Syndrome was made during the period of glasnost, Muratova once again managed to alienate the authorities. It had the dubious honour of being the only film banned during that period.”
It’s a film that alternately assaults you and nods off — usually without warning and often when you’re least expecting it. Mean-spirited and assertive one moment, narcoleptic and in complete denial the next, it bears an astonishing resemblance to the disconcerting rhythm of contemporary public life.
If you don’t know that perestroika is seen as the source of millions of deaths stemming from deregulation, corruption, and crime, the melancholy and despair that fill The Asthentic Syndrome seem disconnected from a particular cause: what is Muratova critiquing, exactly? . . . Knowing the context reveals the emotion behind the puzzling surface.