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Love and Doves/Pigeons is the story of a moron who cheats on his wife, hurts everybody, and then reenters the picture. Or as the Soviets called it, “A Romantic Comedy.”
This movie is really divided into three parts, so I’ll separate it accordingly.
Part 1: Spinning Our Wheels
This is not Act I. Act I implies that things are being set in motion. I’m just going to come out and say it, nothing that happens for the first half hour needs to be in this movie. None of it. The actual story that you’re supposed to pay attention to? That kicks in way later. Hell, the goddamn tone established in the first 30 minutes is completely abandoned. Here’s an example: In the very beginning they have these weird transitions where randos from outside the movie just sort of tell you you’re watching Part 1 or Part 2, much in the way I’m doing right now, but in a more abstract and cloyingly pretentious fashion. But then the movie becomes self aware, realizes the bit is stupid, and just scraps it after three efforts to make it happen. The movie itself seemed to become embarrassed and eventually just pretends that the gimmick never happened. That’s a microcosm for this entire flick. All this first section is good for is meeting these very one dimensional characters. So lets do that.
Meet Vasya. After two and a half minutes of bird footage, we are introduced to this straight up coop junkie who lets pigeons drink water out of his mouth. The temptation is to assume that this hillbilly is the comic relief and that we’re supposed to view him as some metaphor that will guide our actual love interests. He has next to no personality, and seems to have exactly one interest. Birds. But nope. This is the guy. He’s our protagonist, so what’s his deal?
Well, as I’d indicated above, this man does not simply enjoy the presence of birds, but demonstrates genuinely compulsive behavior. Some people eat their feelings. Some people drink their feelings. And apparently one guy out there stuffs his feelings in a big ol’ Mike Tyson cage on the roof. Here he is getting reamed out by his old lady for blowing the last of their rubles on even more birds.
30 rubles doesn’t sound like much. I’m too lazy to look up 1984 values, but today that’s worth 48 cents over here. But that’s apparently all they have, so that’s a dick move by Vasya. Nadya threatens to kill those birds, and I’ve gotta say, that’s a pretty reasonable reaction. Birds suck. Don’t @ me, bird twitter. My mom has a bird. The thing bites her constantly and craps whenever it wants. It can talk, but how long is it going to dine out on saying “What’s your problem?” And these birds can’t even do that. And they would probably rather not be jailed up all day long. Or maybe they would. Birds are morons. Anyway, I am all for her killing his stupid birds. It’d move the plot along, and even if you do believe those birds had it coming (these flying shitbags absolutely did have it coming), you could at least see why Vasya might be motivated to change things up. But she doesn’t go that far. Instead there is a lot of passive aggressive bitching to her kids that they aren’t going to buy anything because their worthless dad blew their boot and food money on more fucking birds. Then her friend reminds us that he could have worse vices.
Speaking of which, it’s time to meet Uncle Mitya. He’s a drunk.
Here he is, moments before chucking his booze into the tank of their sink. Spoiler: The bottle breaks and he loses his precious booze. Uncle Mitya is worthless, but we’re just kind of flopping around for a solid half hour before anything that could possibly be confused for plot begins to show up, so be sure to get comfortable for the Uncle Mitya Show.
Anyway, here are our two boys straight up three-fisting brew dogs.
Hey, what the hell, movie? You just told me that Vasya doesn’t imbibe. His vice is supposed to be birds, and here he is going half Kavanaugh. It’s been two scenes, man. And there isn’t a line where he says “Hey, pretty cool that my wife doesn’t think I drink when I totally drink” or anything like that. He’s not hiding anything, drinking on the docks in front of God and man. It’s not played for laughs. He’s just getting ready to toss back some pivos on a dock. Maybe beer doesn’t count. I don’t know.
Now we get to a moment that might only irritate me. They’re looking for a spot to party. Naturally there is a completely unused bench on the right
But who can even see the bench when there is some solid schtick to be had trying to find a space on this goddamn plank.
After not liking the look of that, it’s off to the side of the pier. Vasya’s son, Lenny shows up on a boat, and without any prompting, they give him the buckets they were carrying. He doesn’t ask “Hey, can you give me those buckets.” He doesn’t even tell them what the hell he’s doing. Fishing. Cruising for trim with his purple cap. Vasya just sees that he’s on a boat, and offers him a pair of buckets.
Hey, did they need the buckets for something? Did his son need the buckets for anything? Do the buckets serve any function in this scene? Hell, does Lenny or anything else from this entire scene serve any goddamn function? No. At best we learn that the two old guys can’t identify benches, drink, and the son doesn’t care for beer. Is this entire scene here to establish that his son doesn’t drink? That seems excessive. We don’t need any of this, and after four of these films I’m starting to realize that the easiest job in all of Soviet Russia was to be the guy who is in charge of cutting weak scenes out of movies. Talk about a do nothing gig. Look, I was prepared to go on a rant when they shot a full 150 seconds on birds and the landscape before we even saw a human face, but I realized that while my bit was absolutely killer, it was slowing me down. So…and I want any Soviet directors reading this to really zero in on this part…I cut it from the piece. You don’t have to include everything.
It really does make everything more interesting for the viewer.
Anyway, some goofy BS occurs, Uncle Mitya runs off to get away from the ball and chain, and the old women say some stuff that you definitely can’t say in Russia today.
Mitya’s old battle axe, Sura asks Nadya’s daughter, Lyuda if she’s down for some Cowberry.
Lyuda wisely gives a raincheck on that cowberry. And then Uncle Mitya shows up, and he’s got news.
A beam got loose and, well…
Vasya is dead. Maybe. People…freak…out. Personally, I was skeptical given that we’d just seen him a scene before and this whole tone has been pretty consistently light-hearted so far. Also, we’ve seen absolutely everything else in painfully extensive detail, so why not witness a major death? What, we can infer his death, but watching a man pass a bucket to his kid is non-negotiably in the final cut? But Russian movies can be crazy, so I do at least have to take it seriously. There is a non-zero chance this movie just killed off its main character off screen in the first 30 minutes. It is possible. Everybody runs off to find the body of their father. Uncle Mitya takes a second to pull out a smoke. And then he casually mentions to his wife that jk lol he’s not dead. Psyche! Did he have an ulterior motive? It doesn’t appear that way. When everybody leaves he doesn’t initiate any sort of Phase II. He just stands around smoking. Why did he do this?…is a question that the movie never explores in any way. Maybe he’s crazier than a sack of wet cats. Maybe it’s just his love of the game. Maybe Uncle Mitya’s just not here for the right reasons. His wife chases him with a shovel, hitting him with the handle end, because this is still love, and in Russia you don’t go full metal plate on your husband’s skull unless he eats all of your beets before you can make soup.
In the very next scene, Uncle Mitya is back and he asks for a drink. Nadya denies him, because he’s a drunk piece of trash. He tells her that, his wife…
And because she is stupid, Nadya is immediately anguished. Then she makes sure that Uncle Mysterio gets that drink. This is two scenes in a row where he maliciously fools his friends with a death hoax. It’s his version read option offense, and he’s going going to dial it up until they show him it can be stopped. Anyway, she’s not dead, though I’ll give it to him, he did go on for quite some time. Really sold the bit. And hey, at least this time he did it for a reason. The guy was thirsty. His character is really coming around. Here he is actually wanting something in a scene. I’m proud of him. Of course it’s starting to become schtick. Just look at Lenny’s face.
Oh Uncle Mitty. Always trying to tell us that a loved one is gone forever.
Then we hang out with Vasya and his daughter, and my God, we are 24 minutes into this road trip and have gone nowhere. He tells her about a half wit that he once admired. The people of the town loved him because he did grunt work, and he loved birds, and then he died. Because he was stabbed. He was stabbed by a bunch of maniacs when he tried to stop a fight. I want to point out that this is the third consecutive scene where human death is mentioned. Because what makes it a Russian RomCom is the cold, ever-present specter of death that lurks behind every character. Then he hammers us over the head with the metaphor of the pigeon that flies away from the coop only to be lured back when his lady pigeon is put outside. That’s awfully convenient because, get this, Vasya is going away to the glamours south.
Part 2: The Actual Plot
That’s right, after that half hour initiation of nonsense, we’re actually getting a story. Our boy Vasya has secured a voucher for one. Does his wife care that she’s staying home while he romps in the surf and enjoys the nightlife? No, because at least now this idiot isn’t blowing all their cash on birds. And besides, he’s going to the shittiest resort in the world.
What the hell is this place? They’re just jumping off- and apparently fishing- of a commercial platform. Is this resort run by the cool high schoolers who smoke and have dirt bikes? These are middle aged adults jumping industrial equipment. I hear there’s good eating up by the old stone quarry.
While on vacation, he runs into a coworker, which is shocking. He has a job? All I’ve seen this guy do is fawn over pigeons and drink beer at the dock. If anything, I might have guessed he’s a fisherman, but nope. He does something vague for this vague company. And she’s…not his wife. To be honest, she’s not even that good looking. She exists in that weird space between “Not Ugly” and “Not nearly hot enough to blow up your entire family over.” Also, she’s crazy. And for some reason they end up doing this
It starts at 35:28 in the video above, and damned if I can even tell what is happening, if it ever existed in real life, or if it’s part of the zaniness of the movie. It appears to be device where Vasya peddles and Raisa gets her saddle jiggled. Is he just getting her off in some Rube Goldberg foreplay device? Again, this is not explored at all. It’s just a thing they do. It’s probably comedy, but hell, maybe this really is something vacationing Russians did back then. I don’t know.
Later they attempt to act very cool at the club.
They go to the beach. Raisa makes her move. Vasya tells her that he can’t because of his wife. She cries. He tells her that he keeps birds. That is absolutely her thing.
Then tells her that he’s addicted to buying birds, and they have outside sex. And, uh…that’s pretty much it as far as his old life is concerned. That was his irresistible temptation to the dark side. A modestly attractive co-worker who seems supportive of his bird fever. Why the hell is she even into him? The movie d o e s n ‘ t c a a a a r e. He writes a letter home, at first telling his kids about the seashells and transistor batteries he’s picked up on his vacation, and Raisa cuts in- mid-letter- to tell his wife Nadya that they did it, and they loved it, and she’s his girl now, and he can see his kids and all that, but Raisa is officially having her turn, thanx bye.
This is psycho shit. And then Vasya jumps back in to his own letter so he can confirm everything that she just wrote down. You know, perhaps he could have just scrapped this version and cut a new letter that made no mention of the souvenirs. His family is not going to be thinking about that for much longer anyway. Seashells aren’t that great. I have to point out here that this movie, that ostensibly presented itself as a breezy if not explicitly romantic comedy, is starting to get really goddamn depressing. This is not a plot mandated setback. This is a family with nothing finding out that one of their own was moving on and living better.
Okay, that last one is still pretty funny, though I suspect that’s more a result of faulty translation. She threatens to liquidate the bird collection.
Yeah. You go, girl. Wacky interpretations and feel-good acts of petty vengeance aside, this is fucking grim. Nadya’s biggest RomCom sin is that she is gross. Fine. But Vasya’s missing at least one tooth and uses his mouth like a goddamn bird bath, so who’s to judge, right? Anyway, absolutely none of this is played for laughs. Lenny vows to murder his father. Again, I don’t feel as though most RomComs have this much mortality. Russian films talk about death more than an 8th grade cutter’s poetry. The mood is poison. The girls are trying to talk their mother off the edge. Nadya is hysterical in convincing him to not murder his father. Nobody knows where their dad is, but that he’s been back in town for a week. And then this happens.
Raisa has shown up to read the room. She doesn’t exactly tell them who she is, but she makes 1,000 subtly shitty remarks about how everybody is a piece of rural trash. Eventually Nadya smelled her husband’s dick on her breath and put two and two together. Raisa got a mediocre ass whooping and sent home where we follow her back to her home of sophistication. Honestly, it could have been worse as far as it goes for Raisa.
We finally get a taste of Raisa’s bachelorette pad. And what a pad it is. Do you like girly posters?
Do you like paintings of the hostess’s head encased in a lightbulb?
Let me ask you this…was he sleeping on a couch bed beneath a wall of horse riding equipment before? Well he is now.
That’s right, buddy. That’s how the other half lives. Crazy as shit.
And then he bounces. No real reason is given. Maybe he didn’t know she had a tiny dog and that’s a dealbreaker. Maybe he just realizes that she’s made of pure, unfiltered lunacy. Maybe he just loves his family. I don’t feel as though he does, but it’s time to go home. You know what? Fine. I’m okay with that. It would have been better and more layered if the two people carrying on the affair had some chemistry and seemed as if they genuinely liked each other, but whatever. Maybe this movie is really about the true love that gets taken for granted in an old marriage. Let’s rekindle the flame. But how will he ever win her back?
Part 3: The Big Redemption
I feel compelled to remind you that this is a comedy. I would think that this is possibly too much emotional baggage for a comedy, but the scene was shot, and that means it’s going into the movie, so we’re just going to have to incorporate this. Uncle Mitya decides to warm their spirits by inappropriately roasting their asses.
ZING. He got you.
It doesn’t go well.
So the women are cranky from the start. Here comes Vasya. His plan is to…just sort of be there and see where the room goes. And then he runs into Lenny. Lenny gets very easily provoked into grabbing his axe and threatening to kill his father. Dad calls his bluff.
But he doesn’t kill him. Hell, nobody actually gets killed in this flick. You know there is a lot of talk about death and absolutely nobody backs any of it up. So Vasya gets to stick around, and his wife cries some more, and blah, blah, blah, Nadya agrees to meet him at his failboat outside aquatic love shack. Nadya immediately gets her own #seatoo moment.
This works. Inexplicably all of this works. All of this.
They fall back in love. It happens largely off screen, so you’ll have to use your imagination, but apparently, everything resolves itself. They keep showing up at this wreckage to have semi-public daytime sex for two months. That’s a long time. I for one, might enjoy seeing them try to keep that up without folks finding out, but suddenly the movie is tastefully restrained. Again, we’ll listen to them randomly talk about the quality of this season’s cowberries early in the movie, but actually seeing the protagonist earn his own redemption? It just happens, and to hell with your curiosity. Eventually he gets to be an indoor husband again, and that’s it.
It’s a weird little movie. It doesn’t really seem as though anybody learned anything or changed in any real way. It certainly breaks free of the traditional story arc in your standard RomCom. You don’t typically see something where the lead wrecks his family, and then simply vows to stop wrecking the family.
What is this movie even about? Some would tell you it’s about a country bumpkin becoming seduced by the cosmopolitan life that will never be his own, but that’s horseshit. His wife mentions that his life long ambition was to one day visit a bar, which is hilariously pathetic, but also, completely at odds with everything we actually see this constantly grinning simpleton do throughout the entire movie. You can tell me all you like that he idolizes big city life, but the facts are the man collects birds and cites a village idiot as one of his most admired people. At no point does he ever do anything to imply that he’s too good for his backwater village, or that there’s something missing in his life.
Finally, is this even a comedy? Well, I don’t know, man. There’s a lot of crying. That’s typically a red flag. But there are some funny moments. And nobody is labeled as an enemy of the state and targeted. Capitalism seemed to be more or less held in check. I’d imagine that’s still pretty effervescent in the Soviet.
Anyway, that’s it. Crazy movie. Love and Pigeons (or Doves). Probably the movie of the year in 1985. Check it out. It’ll change your life.