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Little Vera provides glimpse of typical Soviet home life

LITTLE VERA

Directed by Vasily Pichul.

Starring Natalya Negoda, Andrei Sokolov,

and Ludmila Zaitzeva.

Russian with English subtitles.

At the Nickelodeon and Janus Theatres.

By JOANNA STONE

LITTLE VERA IS A FIRST for the Soviet Union and has captured the enthusiasm of millions of Soviet movie-goers, largely for its unprecedented and erotic love scenes. Little Vera, however, is not an openly erotic movie; its sexual scenes are merely a peek through a keyhole into the forbidden. And this is perhaps how the American audience will view Little Vera -- a peek into the once-forbidden Soviet society, a first-time view of daily life in the USSR.

Little Vera is a coming-of-age film centered around Vera's relationship with her family and her tumultuous affair with a good-looking but egocentric college student. This hunk, Sergio (Andrei Sokolov), after deciding that he and Vera shall be wed, moves into her humble home. Sergio's disdain for Vera's parents soon becomes mutual, resulting in a progressively more belligerent atmosphere. Vera eventually confides to her best friend Lena that she is completely miserable in what should be "the happiest time of her life." When Lena shares a stress-reducing yoga exercise learned from her boyfriend, the two fall to the floor and laugh with a single "Ha!"

Little Vera is a movie about misery. It takes us to the depths of deprivation and anguish with such realism that it makes the audience feel as if it were reading the diary of a recent suicide. We are tempted to close the diary quickly, but the film goes on. The characters slowly lose all hope until the film contains not a glimmer of optimism, but the film goes on still.

A dingy kitchen and a vodka bottle are the center of most of Little Vera, with regular excursions to the bedroom of Vera's lover. Vera is well played by Natalya Negoda, whose beautiful body and somewhat grating voice make her at once sensuous and irritating. With blond-streaked hair, cigarettes, and a promiscuous manner of behavior, Vera represents the rebellious Soviet youth. Vera struggles throughout the movie to overcome her mundane surroundings and banal existence, but to no avail.

Although Little Vera takes place in the Soviet Union, the moral of the film is foreign only to the extent that Americans (and Hollywood films) seem to pride themselves on a constant glimmer of hope. The misery, however, is universal. It is not until half-way through the film, when Vera says to Sergio, "We have a common goal ... communism," that we are forced to remember that we are dealing with the Soviet Union and not just any desolate place.

Perhaps the most striking moment of the film occurs when Vera learns that she was not a "wanted" child. Why didn't her parents abort the pregnancy? The answer is not the one Americans would expect: Vera was born so that her father could get the larger apartment he wanted. This situation is typical of the film -- it provides American viewers with a characteristic slice of life in the Soviet Union.