April 30, 1989 [Little Vera]

It seems that over in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev accidentally made a movie, Little Vera, that sums up every nasty surprise glasnost could ever spring on him. Vera's been accepted to college, but all she wants to do is party hearty, dress up, and rip-it-up-shake-it-up-go-go with her boyfriend. Their lives are ugly: factories make a clanking din and spew flat oily clouds, the young men fight and drink--and so do the parents, half in a stupor most of the time--when the mother isn't breaking her back at her seemingly endless work. Just like an American teen, Vera lowers her fed-up, sullen eyes and scoffs at the "Good Housekeeping" book her aunt sends her--Vera has more on her mind that cooking and cleaning--which, again, her mother pursues doggedly, endlessly. To call this movie "bleak" misses the point: it is a kind of meltdown, a social Chernobyl ironically fueled by the sludge left over from Stalinist economic blows and exhausting global policies.

But that's politics; Little Vera's apocalypse-now explodes in the cramped kitchen, food boiling away, a knife handy. It was hard work to watch it, a movie that seemed much longer than it was. My only consolation was that I wasn't living in that family--although they weren't far off, just a few slumps away from my own sloppy tendencies. It was the scariest Cold War shot fired by a gun held in unsteady hands that looked familiar, with music that seemed as cheesy as any teen comedy's. The synthesizers buzzed and the machines rattled while the noisy neighbors--right next door, I think--shouted at each other on and on, nothing shutting them up all night.


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