Program Notes: A Driver for Vera



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A Driver for Vera
[Водитель для Веры]

Russia/Ukraine, Pervyi kanal 2004
Color, 105 minutes
Russian (with English subtitles)
Director: Pavel Chukhrai
Script: Pavel Chukhrai
Cameraman: Igor Klebanov
Music: Eduard Artem'ev
Design: Ol'ga Kravchenia
Cast: Igor' Petrenko, Elena Babenko, Bogdan Stupka, Andrei Panin, Ekaterina Iudina, Marina Golub
Producer: Mikhail Zil'berman
Executive Producers: Igor' Tolstunov and Aleksandr Rodnianskii

Set in the Crimea in the early 1960s, A Driver for Vera follows the personal and political dilemmas of a prominent Soviet general (Bogdan Stupka), his handicapped daughter Vera (Elena Babenko), and their driver Viktor (Igor' Petrenko). The film received the largest number of prizes at last year's Kinotavr festival including the prestigious Golden Rose award and the awards for best director, screenplay, and cameraman. The film was also Ukraine's official nominee in the "Best Foreign Movie" category for the Academy Awards in March 2005. Its plot is often compared by critics to Nikita Mikhalkov's Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun (1994) and Ivan Dykhovichnyi's Moscow Parade (1992).

Set against the backdrop of the stunning Black Sea cliffs, Chukhrai experiments with the manifestations of both political and personal psychosis through the filters of action, politics, sex, illness, murder, pregnancy, and most importantly: driving. Viktor is, after all, first and foremost a chauffeur. He is transferred to the Crimea under the pretense that he will be General Serov's driver, but ends up serving as Vera's personal escort. The film opens as Viktor photographs himself in various narcissistic poses against his meticulously-polished black car to the tune of a merry Italian pop song. How could such a man possibly be unhappy? This car, Viktor's loyal companion, is the closest thing to family he has. It not only provides him with comfort, but also prospects for the future—his position as Vera's driver is his ticket to officers' school and to the top of the social ladder. A liaison with Vera, who naturally occupies a much higher rank than he in the social hierarchy, is an added perk of the job.

Chukhrai is known for writing scripts intimately based on some of his own life experience, and A Driver for Vera is no exception: "The 60s are important to me because it was a time of hope, a gulp of fresh air, but also a time of cruel under-carpet struggle," Chukhrai said in an interview on the eve of the film's Moscow premiere. "I know men who are so much like my hero, who climb the social ladder and aren't ashamed of exploiting the love of a woman to fulfill their ambitions." As the love story between Vera and Viktor unfolds, so do the murky details of the underlying political plot: the KGB is plotting to place blame for a maritime scandal on the aging Serov, and Viktor has been manipulated into informing on him.

More interesting than this subplot is the menagerie of unique and opaque characters in Chukhrai's film, and the divisions between them. A clear line is created between victims and their victimizers. Victims are physically or emotionally ill and always lack either one or both parents. They are products of their pasts and of the particular social climate in which they live. Though they may sometimes not have motivation for their actions, they are never guilty for them. Their victimizers are the government and its agents, constantly trying to cover their own tracks, like the slippery KGB agent Captain Savel'ev (Andrei Panin) who vacillates from friend to foe. Against the current of this intense political atmosphere, Chukhrai's heroes and heroines struggle for a way to put their unhappy memories to rest as a means of finding hope for the future.

A less clear contrast is made between Beauty and Ugliness. Physical ugliness is linked with internal suffering in the forms of illness, alcoholism, and unhappiness. Physical beauty is sought after and held in esteem, yet it too conceals the dark underbelly of emotional anguish. In its final scenes, A Driver for Vera provides morbid confirmation that the perfect balance of tranquility and beauty has yet to be attained. Viktor and Vera's child have been paired together by fate, but their bond cannot survive in Chukhrai's savage world of shadowy politics, despite Viktor's final promise of "I'll be back."


Pavel Chukhrai

Born in Moscow in 1946, Chukhrai's childhood experiences comprised much of his inspiration for the plot of his 1997 Oscar nominated film The Thief. He graduated from the cinematography department of the State institute for Filmmaking (VGIK) in 1971 (workshop of B. Volchek) and from the director's department in 1974 (workshop of I. Talankin). Before beginning his career as a feature film writer and director, Chukhrai worked as both a camera assistant and a director of photography. He has been a director with Mosfilm studios since 1978.

His father, decorated World War II officer Grigori Chukhrai, directed the internationally-acclaimed film Ballad of a Soldier [1959], the first Soviet movie accepted to an American film festival.




1978 Recall from Time to Time
1980 People in the Ocean
1983 A Canary Cage
1986 Zina-Zinulia
1987 Remember Me as I am (TV)
1992 The Key (Channel Seven, France)
1997 The Thief
2000 Children form the Abyss (international Steven Spielberg documentary project)
2004 A Driver for Vera