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
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."