Baby ryazanskie (Women of Ryazan; The Peasant Women of Riazan). 1927. USSR. Directed by Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Ivan Pravov. Written by Olga Vishnevskaya, Boris Altschuler. With Emma Cesarskaja, Raisa Pužnaja, Kuz’ma Jastrebickij. DCP courtesy Eye Filmmuseum. Russian and Dutch intertitles; English subtitles. 68 min.
Arguably less well known today than her Soviet female contemporaries like Esfir Shub and Elizaveta Svilova—although they, too, are often still overshadowed by the men around them—Olga Preobrazhenskaya trained at the Moscow Art Theatre before making her film acting debut in 1913. A popular film actress, she directed her first film, Baryshnya-Krestyanka, in 1916. After the Revolution, she served as an assistant director to Vladimir Gardin and taught acting at the film school Goskinoškola (now VGIK). She began collaborating with one of her students, Ivan Pravov, and they worked together on a number of films into the late 1930s, including Preobrazhenskaya’s most famous film, the hugely successful Baby ryazanskie. Set in a rural Russian village in 1914, just before the start of World War I, this visually striking and rhythmic silent melodrama follows two women, Anna (Raisa Pužnaja) and her sister-in-law Vasilisa (Emma Cesarskaja). While Anna suffers tragically after her violent, domineering, and traditional father-in-law (Kuz’ma Jastrebickij) rapes her, Vasilisa asserts herself as part of the new social order. Although it’s a fairly accessible film, Baby ryazanskie has not been screened in New York nearly enough recently, and co-screenwriter Olga Vishnevskaya’s life and career requires further research. This version, from Eye Filmmuseum, is a distribution copy from the 1980s, circulated by the Dutch feminist film distribution company Cinemien.