Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Tom Courtenay

Five Great Movies About Russia


With Vladimir Putin and Russia so much in the headlines lately, now seems as good a time as any to check out one or more of the following cinematic takes on the Motherland.

Anna Karenina (1935)  Clarence Brown (National Velvet, The Yearling) directed this adaption of the Tolstoy novel of the same name.  Greta Garbo stars in the title role as Anna Karenina wife of Czarist official Karenin (Basil Rathbone best known for his many on-screen turns as Sherlock Holmes) whose torrid love affair with Count Vronsky (Fredric March of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Best Years of Our Lives) tears her life apart.  Generally considered the best of the many, many adaptions, it won the Mussollini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival, Garbo won a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, and it was ranked #42 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions.  

Doctor Zhivago (1965)  Directed by David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia) this British-Italian romantic epic drama based on the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name clocks in at over three hours and spans decades from Russia pre-World War I, to the Russian Revolution, to the Russian Civil War, to post World War II.  KGB officer Yevgraf (the late great Alec Guinness) has tracked down a young woman Tanya (Rita Tushingham of An Awfully Big Adventure and Being Julia) he believes to be the daughter of his deceased half-brother Yuri Zhivago. He commences to tell her the tragic tale of doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif in arguably his greatest role) and his doomed love affair with Lara (Julie Christie). Other memorable performances come from Rod Steiger as the opportunistic Komarovsky, Tom Courtenay as idealistic student turned militant Pasha, and Geraldine Chaplin as Yuri’s wife Tasha. It won five Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography, as well as five Golden Globes including Best Lead Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture Drama.

Burnt by the Sun (1994) Co-written and directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, who stars in the film as well. It is the summer of 1936, the time of the Great Purge and legendary Red Army Officer Kotov is living happily with his beautiful wife Maroussia and daughter Nadia in a home owned by his in-laws who were former aristocrats. But Maroussia’s long lost fiancé the ex-Nobleman and White Army veteran Mitya suddenly returns bringing long buried secrets and devastation in his wake. Burnt by the Sun won the Grand Prize at Cannes as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Thief (1997) Pavel Chukrai wrote and directed this drama. Post World War II, poor widow Katya (Yekaterina Rednikova) and her son Sanya meet the handsome dashing officer Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov of Behind Enemy Lines and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Tolyan becomes a father figure to Sanya and increasingly vital to both of them while at the same time showing an increasing dark side-not to mention being in fact a criminal. It won the UNICEF award at the Venice Film Festival, the Nika Award for Best Picture and Best Directing and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Red Army (2014) Gabe Polsky wrote, directed, and produced this American-Russian documentary about the legendary Soviet Union national ice hockey team through the eyes of team Slava Fetsiov and the 80’s era union known as The Russian Five. Polsky explores how politics interwove with sports and the National Hockey League’s aggressive recruiting tactics.  Every single one of the players is critical of their former Viktor Tikhonov and his slave driver tactics. It currently enjoys a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Top photo from BIgstock: Assumption Cathedral (Cathedral of the Dormition Uspensky sobor) of the Moscow Kremlin in winter at sunset

45 Years: Can You Ever Really Know Someone?


No, I think I was enough for you.  I’m just not sure you do.

45 Years written and directed by Andrew Haigh (he directed Weekend and was part of the editing crew for such films as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) is one of the most devastatingly intimate domestic dramas ever put to screen.  On the surface Geoff (Tom Courtenay of Doctor Zhivago, Gambit, and Quartet) and Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Duchess, and Melancholia) are on rock solid ground. They’re comfortably well off, have a lovely home filled with books and a piano, great friends, a beautiful German Shepherd, and seem quite comfortable about their childlessness.  They are even about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and what can be stronger than so many years of marriage?

But it turns out there’s been a ghost haunting the Mercer marriage all these years; Geoff Mercer’s first love Katya, who died in a tragic climbing accident over fifty years before. Her body has now been found and with that revelation minute cracks begin to form in the Mercer marriage. It soon becomes clear that Geoff (a tremendous performance by Courtenay who can make his character sympathetic while subtly demonstrating his flaws) has never entirely gotten over Katya. As more and more secrets about Katya are revealed, Kate is left reeling from the realization that none of what she believed about her marriage may have been real. 45 Years doesn’t do big melodramatic scenes or speeches but rather lets the tension unfold through quieter moments where repressed feelings seethe to the surface.

Charlotte Rampling was (deservedly) nominated for an Academy Award for her performance here. Her insensitive (and frankly dumb) comments on the Oscar Diversity controversy probably cost her the Gold Statue, but that doesn’t diminish what she accomplishes as an actress here. Rampling as Kate can convey more with a subtle twist of her mouth and a flash of her eyes than most performers can with 10 minute monologues and her expressions in her final scene, dancing with Geoff to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” are quite simply haunting.