- The Girls (1961 film)
A 1962 film poster by Kononov V.
Directed by Yuri Chulyukin Studio Mosfilm Release date(s) 1961 Running time 98 minutes Country Soviet Union Language Russian
Devchata is a romantic comedy set in an isolated Russian logging camp, circa the late 1950s. A pig-tailed young girl - Tosya (Nadezhda Rumiantseva)- arrives from school with a cooking degree, and joins a group of other women who work in jobs supporting the loggers. Tosya's naivete is reflected in the first exchange we see, where the official who shows her to her quarters seems exasperated when he finds that she has not brought a pillow. Tosya is assigned as a cook for the camp.
Once in her dorm-like room, she cheerfully prepares herself a meal of tea and a giant loaf of bread slathered with jam; all of it from her roommates' food stockpile. When the four other girls return after a day at work, they are generally taken by Tosya's youth and good nature. However, one woman is upset that she is eating her food without permission, and a fight ensues.
It is in this scene that we first see another characteristic of Tosya: her fierceness. When the dorm-mate makes some rude comments, Tosya throws a boot at her head without hesitation. This trait is also exhibited a short time later, when Tosya enters the dance hall (the girls call it the "club"). At first, no one will dance with her (probably because she is so short), but eventually she begins to dance with another very tall girl who is also passed up by several young men.
Meanwhile, two groups of loggers engage in a friendly dispute (one has just lost their position as the most productive in the camp, and their portraits are being taken down from a "wall of honor" by an official, who replaces them with pictures of the rival group). They leaders of the two groups play checkers, and in order to concentrate, Ilya (their leader of the group who has just been honored with their portraits being hung on the wall) calls out for the music to be turned off. A very tall and imposing companion carries out his order. However, Tosya, who is now enjoying her dance, marches over to the phonograph and puts the music back on. Ilya calls for the music to be turned back off, and Tosya, to the amusement of the onlookers, seems prepared to fight this giant in order to keep the music playing.
Impressed by Tosya's tenacity, Ilya approaches her and asks her to dance. After telling him to first throw away his cigarette and take off his hat, she proclaims that she doesn't want to dance with "your type."
Following this episode, and stinging from humiliation, Ilya bets the leader of the rival group that within a week he can win Tosya's heart. The winner gets the other's hat. Ilya and his gang quickly make a plan (they will first insult Tosya's cooking to break her down). Despite ill-treatment (the gang dramatically throws Tosya's stew into the snow, proclaiming it to be inedible, and bringing her to tears), Tosya carries some mushroom soup to the men a few days later to their work-site in the forest. The starving men can no longer resist, and Ilya and Tosya begin to show some real affection for one another.
It is a pure joy to watch Tosya fall in love with Ilya, and her simple celebrations (victory dances in her pajamas after a particularly enjoyable walk home, bright eyes and smiles, singing), are a perfect evocation of puppy love in a young girl's heart. We also learn that Tosya is an orphan and that Ilya is interested in exploring ways to increase the productivity of the logging operation through new techniques and technologies.
One night, Tosya's nasty dorm-mate reveals to the other girls the bet that Ilya has made, and there is a debate over whether to break the news to Tosya. The other girls want to keep Tosya's faith in men and love alive. When Ilya asks Tosya to a big dance, however, the girls decide that they must tell her the truth. It is a heartbreaking scene, especially when Tosya asks quietly, "And the bet was just for a hat?" Within minutes her despair turns to indignation, and she marches off to the dance. Approaching Ilya, she asks him point blank whether there was any bet, and when he sheepishly admits that there was, she grabs the rival's hat and shoves it into Ilya's hands. She then runs out into the night (without a coat) and sobs behind a wood pile as Ilya searches for her and calls out her name.
In the weeks that follow, Ilya attempts to convince her that the bet was just a stupid prank, that he is sorry, and that he really does love her. But Tosya will not be easily swayed. She is too hurt to trust, and the rest of the movie has the audience rooting for a reunion, although Tosya seems completely unwilling to forgive.
Eventually, though, during a scene in which the entire camp is pitching in to build a newly married couple their own house, Tosya and Ilya find themselves in an attic, each with a box of nails. This simple moment leads to their reconciliation, and we leave them snuggling outside on a log, flirtatiously exploring a first kiss and talking about their future.
The movie is in black and white, and the cinematography emphasizes the crisp atmosphere of a snow-covered forest, and the closeness of life in the camp. In several shots, we see the camp's wooden structures nestled together, as if for warmth; in the same way, the characters sleep together in small rooms warmed by a central hearth. The atmosphere, however, is not suffocating, but rather of coziness protected from the cold.
Tosya's character, facial expressions, and physical humor are memorable aspects of the movie, which actually has a very simple plot.
- Nadezhda Rumyantseva as Tosya
- Nikolai Rybnikov as Ilya
- Lyusyena Ovchinnikova as Katya
- Stanislav Khitrov as Filya
- Inna Makarova as Nadya
- Svetlana Druzhinina as Anfisa
- Nina Menshikova as Vera
- Nikolai Pogodin as Sasha
- Mikhail Pugovkin as Commandant
- Anatoli Adoskin as Dementyev
- Viktor Bajkov as Ksan Ksanych
- Roman Filippov as Vasya
- Aleksei Krychenkov as Alyosha
- Pyotr Kiryutkin
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