4/30/13

Celestial Lives of the Meadow Mari

Faith-based behavior always mystifies me. I grew up around Protestants and Catholics, so I am familiar with those rituals and rites, but this screenplay by Denis Osokin takes us to the remote Mari in the north of Russia in the autonomous Republic of the Marij El, where we find the Volga-Finnic people and become privy to their nature-worshiping beliefs, rituals, customs, ceremonies and rites (along with a smattering of Russian Orthodoxy).

"Nebesnye ┼Żeny Lugovykh Mari" (English captions) is a collection of short stories about 23 Marij women whose names start with "O." Their culture is suspended somewhere between magic and realism; we watch them participate in mating rituals, fertility rites, hexes for revenge, spells to restore virility, and a fairly traditional burial. This is only the tip of the iceberg, there are 18 more stories to go! Director Aleksey Fedorchenko moves us along in a non-judgmental way, immersing us in the lives and beliefs of these women with no questions asked.

That some of these rites are "foreign" to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening crowd is an understatement. For example, we see a police officer draw a beaded anti-zombie device, rattle it at a zombie's chest and it works! We see a young woman engage in heavy petting under a birch tree, then fall into a wasting sickness that isn't cured until she goes to the tree and begs forgiveness.

Be prepared for a lot of nudity, forthright talk and a bit of humor. There is not a trace of blowie uppie stuff or gunfire. In fact, I don't think there is even electricity in this fairly primitive culture.
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Interesting preview:
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