Female Bodies in Post-Soviet Film: Natal'ia Andreichenko's Shamara

Yelena Furman, University of California, San Diego

In 1994, Natal'ia Andreichenko directed the film version of Shamara, based on the eponymous 1990 novella by Svetlana Vasilenko, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Vasilenko's novella was a key example of New Women's Prose, a literary development originating during glasnost', a primary concern of which was the representation of female sexuality and the female body. Not surprisingly, the female sexual body is likewise prominently featured in Andreichenko's adaptation of Vasilenko's text. This paper looks at Andreichenko's version of Shamara in terms of how it both participates in and disrupts post-Soviet cinematic constructions of the female body.

Feminist approaches to post-glasnost' films - which in the virtual absence of this tradition in the former Soviet Union stem almost exclusively from Western sources - stress certain disturbing yet predictable tendencies in these films' portrayal of women's bodies. After a long communist-imposed silence, glasnost' ushered in a period of unprecedented openness about matters of the flesh. Before glasnost', asexuality, combined with a cheerful work ethic, characterized the Soviet female body. During the glasnost' and post-glasnost' periods, this construction gave way to its opposite: the post-Soviet female body became hyper-sexualized. Post-Soviet films are replete with this bodily imagery, which has an unmistakably patriarchal tenor, not surprising given that the vast majority of the filmmakers are male. Post-glasnost' cinema overwhelmingly constructs female bodies as objects of male consumption rather than genuine sexual subjects. Moreover, these bodies are often sites of (male) violation, usually through rape, which is nevertheless not presented as such; hence the frequency of rape scenes in post-Soviet films masquerading as sex scenes.

While to a large extent participating in these cinematic conventions, Andreichenko's Shamara is a still rare example of a film that simultaneously radically challenges them. Unlike the majority of post-Soviet films, Shamara is genuinely woman-centered: not only the protagonist, but the director and screenwriter are female. Yet it is not merely biology that differentiates this film from other contemporary offerings; a key difference is the way this film conceptualizes female sexuality. Shamara is undoubtedly a sexual body but rather than being defined and controlled by men this sexuality is her own. Far from a passive object of male desire, Shamara is an active and unapologetic sexual subject. Moreover, although her body is the site of male violation and while the film largely conflates sex and rape, in the final analysis Shamara triumphs over her abuse(rs). In discussing Shamara as an example of an (uneasy) alternative to masculine conceptions of female sexuality, this paper will also examine the ways in which the film both remains faithful to and differs from the text on which it is based.