Mala Moskwa (Little Moscow) (2008)





Director:     Waldemar Krzystek.

Starring:     Svetlana Khodchenkova (Wiera), Leslaw Zurek (Janicki), Dmitri Ulyanov (Jura), Jurij Ickov (Politruk), Aleksey Gorbunov (Towarzysz), Artyom Tkachenko (Sajat).

a love story set in 1967, Legnica (headquarters of the Soviet forces in Poland ), comprising a Soviet enclave closed to outsiders



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"The Red Army's most powerful and westerly located garrison was in Legnica, Poland. In the nineteen-sixties, the Soviet soldiers and civilians quartered in Legnica made up almost half of the town's population. It was then that Legnica came to be known as 'Little Moscow'."

Flashback.  The colonel's wife Vera arrives at the base. The captain watches her walk by him at a distance. She has tears running down her face.

A Russian comes over to the colonel and tells him that Vera is dead.

Vera's husband Jura looks at the headstone for Vera Fiodorovna Swietlowa, 1943-1968.

Back to the present. Vera's husband Jura is at the cemetery and the official there says he remembers Vera Fiodorovna Swietlowa alright.

Flashback. Vera asks why has the train stopped?` The fellow says they are just waiting to enter Legnica. Vera asks: "We're all in Poland already?" The guys says something fresh to her and then he goes. Her husband comes out of their berth and says the fellow is right. He does have the prettiest wife in all of Legnica.

The trains stop at Legnica. Trucks roll out of the base and the gate is closed. They stop at the housing section. The couple plus another couple are told that they will all be quartering on the first floor. There will be a medical captain on the second floor. He will arrive on the next transport.

The other couple's part of the floor is still not refinished, so Vera says the other couple will bunk in their place for awhile.

Back to the present. The intercity train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Cracow Main Station is arriving on track 7, platform 3. Vera's daughter sees her father waiting for her on the platform. When they greet he asks her how are things in the company and did she get on well with the Germans? Vera answers: "They must get on well with me. We have the gas."

She is mad at her father for not wearing one of the two pair of new pants she send him. She calls him "a defender of Poles" and says all that the Poles own they've stolen either from the Germans or the us (the Russians). Dad asks who said that and she says: "Your wife, Vera Fiodorovna, in a dream."

A taxi takes them over to an internet cafe. Father gets out of the car, but the daughter stays in the car. She tells him, she can see it from the car.

Flashback. Vera Fiodorovna Swietlowa competes in a talent competition. She starts singing in Polish.

Her husband is sitting in the audience. A fellow military man tells Jura in astonishment that Vera speaks Polish. Jura says he didn't even know it.

The judges asks Vera why she chose to sing a Polish song in the Polish language? She says she is a big fan of the Polish singer Ewa Demarczyk and started studying Polish. She adds: "It's good to know one's neighbor's language." She wins the international competition and receives a prize of a large silver broach, presented by Lt. Michal Janicki, their best music specialist. The lieutenant kisses her hand and congratulates her.

Later in the evening Lt. Janicki asks the husband of Vera if he could dance with her? He says yes. One of the husband's buddies warns him to watch out for Vera because she makes a lot of men's mouths water.

The lieutenant doesn't take long before he is making suggestive references that makes Vera a bit upset and disgusted. Mischa now asks another wife to dance, but she is really, really pregnant. She says she is Armenian. Mischa is a bit sarcastic with her and she bows out of dancing saying that her little one is kicking her repeatedly.

A dispute arises between a Polish officer and a Soviet Captain. Mischa tells the Polish fellow to hold his tongue about the Russian massacre of Polish officers at Katyn or the both of them will be arrested.

The Polish officer had been trying to get at the Soviet Captain. The Captain has gotten a large pipe now and he says that the Polish officer can come in and get him. Mischa opens the door and the Captain tries to knock him down with the pipe, but Mischa is able to push the Russian officer away from him.

The Russian is really angry at Mischa. Mischa apologizes saying he didn't know what was going on. The Captain says: "Tomorrow my command will want a full report on your Polish officer's aggressive behavior towards the officers and soldiers of the Red Army!" Mischa says he knows nothing about that. He only knows what just happened here and now.

It's morning and Vera is trying to get her drunken husband home. Mischa shows up saying he wants to help. What he wants to do is flirt with Vera some more. He kisses her on one cheek and then the other. He then kisses her on the mouth.

She asks him: "Satisfied? For me that was nothing more than offensive." Her husband stirs a bit and Mischa says that he has to help her now, otherwise she will never make it home. Mischa says he knows a short-cut. She says he can't go into the Soviet zone, or he will be arrested. Mischa says they won't catch him.

Mischa tells her he will help her get Jura home, but then he wants her to come with him to thank him for what he did for her.

When three Soviet guards come along, they have to hide. They go on and take Jura upstairs. There the pregnant lady calls for Vera to help her. She is badly bleeding. She sees Mischa and yells for Vera to get him out of here.

Vera goes upstairs for a doctor. The fellow says he is not a doctor, but he will call for an ambulance.

Jura opens his eyes now.  It seems he was listening to the dialogue between Vera ande Mischa. 

Back to the present. Vera's daughter tells her father: "If you hadn't proved such a coward then, our lives would have turned out differently. But to do that one would need to be a real man. You should have given that Pole a good hiding, as soon as he approached your wife."

Dad replies: "It would change nothing."

Daughter now really taunts father asking when did they do it for the first time? She also says he knew when they did it. "I was born, so you couldn't forget." Dad leaves the restaurant.

Flashback. Because of the singing of the Polish song, Jura is in trouble. He is asked if he knew what song she would sing? Yes, but he didn't know she would sing it in Polish.

The captain who got hit by Mischa is the Political Officer. He says the Poles have sent them an Official Letter. They want Vera to begin singing with their Polish Army orchestra. She will participate in the Festival of Russian and Soviet Songs in Zielona Gora. The captain says they will let Vera sing with the Poles for a month or so, but after that they will refuse.

One of the officers that signed the letter was Michal Janicki. The captain's boss tells the captain to write a report on this Michal Janicki.

Vera is taken to the music hall. And now she is with her Michal Janicki. He was the one who pushed to get her into the concert with the Poles. She starts singing as Mischa plays the piano. She opens the window so her "escort" can hear them from the street.

Back to the present. Dad and his daughter go to an old airplane hanger out of which he flew his airplanes. He says it was here that he last saw Mischa and Vera. She had recently arrived and she started walking toward him. They looked at each other. She knew that she was crying and he knew she wanted to tell him something. He starts to say that he should have gone over to her, but . . . He can't get the rest out. His daughter once again just gets disgusted with him and goes and gets her camera from the back of the car. She wants the driver to take a photo of her and her father at this old ruin. Dad walks away again.

Flashback. Mischa waits to meet Jura at an outdoor pub. A woman, Nane, comes up pushing a baby carriage and tells him that Jura cannot get away from his work. But she will have a beer with Mischa. Sitting with Mischa, the woman says: "We have decided to name our son after you." Oh, and there's something else she has to tell him.

There is a knock on the door at Nane's apartment. It looks like she and her husband are very frightened of who it could be at the door. The man who called for the ambulance knocks on the door a couple more times and is let in. He says he wants to clear up any misunderstanding with them. He says he is a doctor "and maybe even a gynecologist." The man is also a major.

The two parents go into the kitchen and say that somebody suspects them and the doctor is nosing around them to find out more about them. The doctor comes into the kitchen and the parents have to act like there's nothing wrong.

Vera comes in without knocking and Nane quickly has to tell her that Comrade Major is here and the little one is constantly crying. Nane tells her to take the baby for a walk.

The major says he is a psychological expert for the military. "Wherever there are people, they need to be watched and understood."

Nane and Vera are outside. She tells Vera: "I trust you like a sister, but if you betray us -- I'll kill you!" Vera says she doesn't know what all this is about. Nane tells her that Mischa will tell her.

The major asks isn't it strange that Jura and Vera have had no children?

Michal and Vera meet up outside. They are passing a car when an older woman gets out of the car and says she is Janicka. She says Vera and Michal will go in the car. She will hide the baby carriage and then join them. She adds that Mr. Czeslaw is totally trustworthy. She asks if the Armenian couple are coming on later. Mischa says: "If they can."

The priest tells Mischa that Vera will have to stand next to him to pretend to be the godmother. The baby is being baptized. The priest asks for the Godparents to come forward. Mischa and Vera step forward.

Nane's husband is really drunk now. He stands up and starts singing what probably is an Armenian song. Nane stands up and joins him in the singing. The major asks what is it that they are singing?

So the baby is baptized as Michal. The Godparents take a cab and go into a building. There the godparents kiss, with the baby in between them. Vera asks: "Oh, God. What are we doing?"

In the apartment Mischa calls for her mother, but she is not there. The baby carriage is there. Mischa complains that Vera is holding back. She asks: "Am I to jump on you? And you had the nerve to take me to church."

Vera tells Mischa that they have to get going and get the baby back to Nane or the major is going to start being suspicious. Vera's husband watches them come out onto the street. They start to kiss and Jura steps forward saying that the baby's parents sent him out to get them because they have been gone for too long. Mischa is a little surprised by this but walks behind Jura as he pushes the baby carriage down the street.

Back to the present. Dad shows his daughter where the above happened. The daughter wants to go up into the apartment. She knocks on the apartment door, but there is no answer. She rushes out of the building.

Flashback. Vera is late for a rehearsal. But she is already inside the music room. She and Mischa have sex in the music room. (Not shown.)

Vera is walking through the snow. Mischa and she meet at a prearranged place. It's in an apartment. He asks her if she will stay until the morning?  She asks why not all summer?

Back to the present. Daughter asks father: "When were they caught together?" At the end of August 1968. This was the time of the Russian putdown of the Czechoslovakian revolution. The daughter asks why did dad bring her here? He says that Vera's grave is far from here. Daughter says: "She chose that."

Dad says he doesn't want her grave totally forgotten. Daughter says that she loved her mother and pined for her. That is, until grandmother told her about the suicide because of a Polish man. "She didn't give a damn for her own daughter." He says he can't hate her. This just makes the daughter madder. She bitterly says that her mother abandoned her. Her love for this Polish man was so important for her that she killed herself in despair.

She really gives it to Jura now: "Rejected by my mother, I was left all alone in the world. And like her -- I too was left with you as my consoler!" She is disgusted by Jura.

At night Vera the daughter goes back to the apartment building. She watches as a man with a limp comes out of the building. She follows this man. The man slowly starts to turn around, but now Vera runs away.

Vera knows now that this Mischa is still alive. Jura says he did not know this. The official story was that Mischa died in a car accident just over the Czech border. Other stories say he committed suicide.

Flashback. One day Mischa is waiting in the music room with tulips in his hand to give them to Vera. Instead, the captain comes into the room. He tells Mischa that Vera will no longer be coming for rehearsals. He says: "Our Vera is pregnant." The pregnancy is at risk, so Vera has been hospitalized. He adds that the pregnancy is why Jura did not enter the space flight program. The Captain goes on to say that Jura is infertile.

Before the captain leaves, Mischa asks him how long will she be in the hospital? The captain says it could be as much as three months.

Jura comes to see Vera in the hospital. She starts to speak but he asks her not to. He says they have to think of the baby. He says he has only one condition: that Mischa never be allowed to see the child. She must promise him that. He then says he will ask the doctors to keep her in the hospital until the baby is born. Now Jura bolts from the chair and starts walking out. Vera yells to him: "Jura, sorry, but I can't promise you that! Jura, wait!" She starts crying.

Mischa walks around a farmer's market. He buys a ring from a seller who is a black marketer. He goes to see Mischa in the hospital. He whistles as he walks near the hospital. Vera comes out in her robe to see him. He got his hands on a Russian military uniform and says he will visit Vera often. Vera is sky-high happy.

She shows him a way into the hospital. He now gives her the engagement ring. She happily accepts it. He talks to her of dropping out of the army and taking her to live up in the mountains of Poland.

She is still sky-high happy. She comes into the hospital room and says the girls should be happy for her. They tell her her husband was here. He looked everywhere for Vera. He also told them that the cosmonaut Yiru Gagarin died today in a car accident. March 27, 1968.

Jura did see Vera at the hospital. He saw her with Mischa kissing him goodbye.

Back to the present. Daughter Vera and Jura are at the old hospital. Vera asks the caretaker why are there so many dogs here? He says they watch the hospital.

Flashback. The captain calls Sajat in to speak with him. He says the Polish priest who baptized his son has been bragging how he pulled this ceremony off under the noses of the Soviets. And now he has produced a religious card to announce the fact! Sajat says it's counterfeit! The captain tells him to take the card or he will destroy it! He then calls Sajat: "Comrade Catholic."

The captain wants to know the identity of the godparents. It could be Vera, Mischa or even Jura.

Mischa comes to see Vera again. There are soldiers all over the place. They catch Mischa.

Vera is being released from the hospital.

Jura waits for her outside. When she comes out he says he will help her. So, Mischa gives the baby to Jura to hold. As they walk, Jura wants to know what will happen now?

Sajat has the jeep and he is riding in to tell Jura that he has to report to the hanger. It's a red alert. Jura says let's take Vera and the baby home first. Sajat asks him if he is crazy?  Jura reprimands him and says he will be there on time after he drops the baby and Vera off. They walk along and he drops her off.  Before he leaves he says he would like the name of the girl to be Vera. He runs off.

Mischa is brought in to be interrogated. The interrogator tells him that today Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia. So they are now bound by wartime investigation procedures. He is accused of espionage.

Vera comes in to see the interrogator. He tells her: "You are the wife of a Soviet officer, the army assented to your marriage and since that time, our rights and our rules apply to you, too."

The interrogator tells Vera that she is very immature. All she ever talks about is "I want, I want, I want" and never talks about "I must, I must, I must".

She tells him she wants to divorce Jura, become a Polish citizen and have the right to live in Poland with her child. The interrogator says: "As the wife of a Pole, of course." He gets a bit exasperated with her and says: "Stupid Vera, you enormous imbecile. " She will never be a Polish citizen and she will never live in Poland. Nor will she ever marry Mischa. She and Jura can decide themselves about the divorce. "The sooner, the better. Just be careful, he may recognize the brat as his own and throw you out like a dog."

He also tells her that the Pole has apologized for his getting involved in this whole adventure.

This is the day that Vera, with tears running down her face, sees Jura across the way and walks away from him.

Now the Poles come to speak to Mischa. They yell at him that he sparked of a huge scandal, because he had to screw a Russki!  "Polish women got poor fannies?" Mischa now jumps out a large open window. He lands on the sidewalk below.

Vera goes to see Michal's mother. She tells Vera that his unit was sent to Czechoslovakia. In the mountains he had a car accident.

The Soviets are worried about Vera blabbing about what happened to her and Mischa. They pick her up as she crosses over a bridge. She tries to run away, but they chase her down.

Back to the present. Jura and daughter Vera visit mother Vera's grave. While they are there, Mischa shows up with flowers at the grave site. Vera turns to Jura for confirmation of Mischa. He nods his head.

Daughter Vera starts to cry.


I found the character of Jura to be almost comical.  They make him out to be a wimp of a husband who could neither force the lover of his wife out or to divorce his wife Vera.  He acts like an absolute saint as far as his ability to forgive the trespasses done to him, but has no compassion to help even his daughter, also named Vera, cope with her anger toward her mother for killing herself without even a thought for her baby. 

One problem is that we can't be sure that mother Vera actually committed suicide.  The Russians wanted her out of the way.  They caught her and certainly could have killed her down by the river.   If daughter could think that her mother was killed by the Russians, it would probably relieve some of her bitterness toward her mother. 

I really don't like these kinds of cheating movies, of someone committing adultery without having to pay any price for it.  I could tolerate this one, because early on I learned that both cheating lover and cheating wife have died.  I think that a lot of these types of situations are due to a great emotional immaturity on the part of those involved.  Can you imagine a mere lieutenant stealing the wife of a captain/colonel right from under the husband's nose?  And, remember, this is the old Soviet Union involved here.  Why would a person do such a thing?  Do they have a death wish?  Vera is no more mature than her lover.  This fellow's behavior was so brutish as to be absolutely disgusting and yet she falls for it merely because he keeps hounding her. 

I'm sure some out there may root for the lovers that were cheaters, but I don't have much sympathy at all for immature lovers who don't even consider who they might be hurting.  I was rooting for the Soviets in this drama.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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