Once Again for Love (Ещё Раз Про Любовь)
Written by Edvard Radzinsky (play), Evard Radzinsky (screenplay)
Directed by Georgi Natanson
Soviet Union, 1968.
“We cannot, after all, tell each other anything new,” smirks Yevdokimov (Aleksandr Lazarev), toying with his latest conquest. True enough, the Soviet black-and-white film, Once Again for Love, which is based on Edvard Radzinsky’s 1964 play, does not offer any novel solutions to the questions posed using predominant situational realism in a doomed relationship. Despite being a creation of 1968, a year that painted Soviet screens with productions like The Diamond Arm and The Color of Pomegranates, Once Again for Love is selectively devoid of color, highlighting psychological performance. At its core, the film is a dialogue on impulse and consequence, played out between two fools.
It is at once easy to identify with the isolated stewardess, Natasha (Tatyana Doronina), and to dismiss her as a needy decadent when it comes to relationships. On his part, Yevdokimov rouses a confusing brew of moral repulsion and sympathy throughout his ambiguous pursuit of the fair-haired beauty. All things for the pair begin as they should, by accident. A poet takes the stage in a bouncy jazz-dive, only to be humiliated by his crude expressions, so absurd to a crowd spoiled with sophistication. Having noted the publically demonstrated naivety of Natasha’s response, Yevdokimov sidles up to play what is an obvious game, recklessly disregarding the impact that it could, and would, have on their lives.
Sex is, unsurprisingly, the excuse for what is otherwise a lack of tangible attraction. The usual ploy of cat-and-mouse plummets into a farce through which Natasha and Yevdokimov end up paddling in self-convinced deceit. Who could argue against Yevdokimov’s horror when Natasha proclaims after such a short span of time, “I love you”, curled in chilling shelter behind him and thoroughly rupturing his concept of a light affair. While it may have been all too blatant, her loneliness is still given a solid visual portrayal as Yevdokimov is only partially observable and a single light illuminates Natasha’s fearful face. A doe in the headlights, she pleads, “Do you love me?”.
Leaving Yevdokimov for her airborne tour, Natasha tempts to be dismissed as comically unreasonable, a fate potentially indicated by the unwitting clown who set the opening stage. Do we not, however, in depth crave as desperately as she does for a confirmation of our worth, a communication of devotion, and somebody to whom we can unthinkingly entrust ourselves? Radzinsky forces us to analyse our own irrationality and justifies Natasha’s haste. In that spotlight, her voice trembled with collective absurdity and desire, the silence of Yevdokimov stripping her into comprehension.
An ironic phenomenon of dating couples, from all around the world, is a fascination with visiting the zoo. Natasha and Yevdokimov do not escape the grip of this cliché, written into a classic example of Soviet-era animal exhibition. Small and barren cages create situational insight that accurately reflects the couple’s psychological relationship. There is nothing to validate it, and thus they can do no more than look in on each other from their respective cages. Yevdokimov ensnared Natasha with his light-hearted flirtation and remains to pay the dues of guilt. It is not difficult, after all, to imagine Yevdekimov as repentant at allowing himself to be carried away in his infatuation while understanding that he has stepped across explicit boundaries with a desperate woman. She, on the other hand, indulges the fancy of martyrdom that comes with great expectations.
As the couple continues to tussle, convincing themselves and each other that their groundless relationship is indeed justified, it is worth examining, in both historic and contemporary contexts, the role that responsibility plays within infatuation, not within mutual love. In being the unwitting object of affection for another, how much are we truly responsible for the sanctity of their feelings? For many, it may be common understanding that feelings of love are highly individual and if not reciprocated, are not held accountable. In a lottery-effect, if you hit and miss, it’s a loss that no-one will rectify. “Why do you need me?” asks Natasha of Yevdokimov as he firmly remains, if only for her sake, and again, we are impelled to ask about love.
– Lital Khaikin