A self-pitying but popular playwright drives to Vladimir to relax with a doting female student and another writer. He’s convinced his writing is of no lasting value, but he still has an ego, about his work and his masculine appeal. He’s drawn to a museum guide he sees on his first afternoon, and when she appears at dinner, he tries charm. She reads widely, knows his work, loved it once and now finds it trivial; and she says so. He’s stung. The next day, they walk through a cemetery where she talks of a dead peasant’s poems and he grabs an idea of hers as the theme for a new play. She remains indifferent; he’s baffled. So that night he spies on her. All is revealed.
Gleb Panfilov, one of the Soviet Union’s most innovative directors, wrapped that film, Tema (the theme), in 1979. It had been previously approved and funded by Goskino, the state film agency, but after it went to Goskino for review, months passed with no news. Panfilov and his friends began to press officials for an explanation. “I was never given any comprehensible answer,” says the softspoken director. “Only once did I receive a reasonable reply. One official told me he had watched it twice and thought it was very good, although shocking. ‘Your film is very emotional,’ he said. ‘Therefore we cannot release it. You must wait.’ “
He waited seven years. Then last June Panfilov was summoned to the movie distribution agency. “They said that the film was being released and wanted to discuss what month would be suitable and what kind of advertisements should appear,” he says. “It was as if nothing had happened.”
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