Sunday, September 4, 2016

Russian Classic Teacher Film

By Stephen Wilson

              WAIT UNTIL MONDAY

              I just caught the underground train on time before the doors loudly slammed shut. I found myself in unusual surroundings. The whole carriage, covered with posters, photos and art design, was devoted to the classic Soviet Film, 'Wait Until Monday'. I was surrounded by a surreal film review gliding along on rails where some passengers were gaping at the spectacle. It was clearly an attempt by the Moscow Metro to support the highest achievements of the Soviet Film industry. In recent days I have heard sarcastic comments that teachers should watch this film on September the first as it is a classic film depicting the hard  life of struggling Russian school teachers.

              The film, directed by Stranislav Rostotski, (1967),  is a classic melodrama depicting the dark night of the soul being experienced by a disillusioned Russian history teacher, Ilya Semenovich (played by Vyacheslav Tikhonov,) and his tense relations between two colleagues, Natalia Gorelva (Irina Pechenikova) and Svetlana Mikhailovich (Nina Menshkova). The history teacher, Ilya, is a strict, demanding and thoughtful teacher who starts to become sick and tired of his job. Not finding that his vision of teaching has come up to his high moral and spiritual demands, he decides to quit teaching.

              He believes this is most honorable thing to do. He thinks  continuing to teach will be to work in bad faith and hence hypocritical. So Ilya goes to his director who happens to be his old frontline comrade to hand in his notice.

              His old friend refuses, so Ilya asks for a vacation to recover from fatigue.

              When he asks for a holiday, his friend asks: "What is the matter? Is it the liver? Have you been taking the right vitamins?" He also asks: "You are not being crafty, are you? "In any case, the teacher has to work."

              Ilya comes to understand he is not always right in his relations with teachers and can be needlessly tactless. In one scene he enters the school staff  room and scolds a young Russian teacher for speaking bad Russian. The teacher storms out of the staff room and bursts into tears. Ilya makes amends by not only later apologising to the teacher but offering a bouquet of flowers to another  teacher on the anniversary of her teaching for twenty years.

              There is also tension between himself and a young Russian teacher of English who he secretly loves, but can't openly admit this. The young teacher, Natalia, is a novice at teaching who urgently needs his help as a mentor. In the end
he helps her, but he is not always approachable. When the Natalia states:

             "I have a lesson," hinting that she needs his aid, he coldly answers, "and I'm free" and walks away.

              One of the best scenes of the film is when a student secretly brings a raven into the classroom which creates chaos in the classroom as all the children run after it. The teacher offends the students with her rude English by saying:

              "Shut up", and "Get out of here", in an aggressive and angry tone. She also grabs the raven with a cloth and throws it out". "My mother says it is a sin to hurt a raven," complains  one protesting school student.

               The teacher fails to respond to a reasonable  question:

              " What is English for Voron?"

               Perhaps the scene with the raven is no accident. According  to much folklore, the arrival of a raven is seen as a bad omen of either impending troubles, or death.  Although her classmates boycott  her class, her colleague, Ilya, steps in to smooth things over.

               Part of the drama of the film is wondering what Ilya will finally do: will he hand in his notice, or soldier on?

               The film is superb because it has witty and thoughtful dialogue, a great talented cast, is beautifully shot and is never dull. There exists a pure simplicity about the film where the speech of the teachers never becomes long-drawn or reduced to stale  propaganda. Teachers are shown for what they  actually are: vulnerable, prone to misjudgment, and can put their foot in it. The film is also philosophical. The students are often set classroom tasks such as to write a composition in Russian on questions such as, "What is Happiness?" Not all the answers are welcomed by teachers.

                When one students writes about what she wants in life : 'I want to meet a man who loves children because I want to have two boys and two girls for peace. Then nobody  will feel lonely. Old people won't feel lonely." And those sentiments point to a deep theme of the film which is that many of the characters feel unhappiness arising  from the loneliness of not being understood.

                 For some reason the Russian literature teacher inexplicably scorns this school pupil's views and an argument follows.

                 One school student defines happiness as - 'When someone understands you'.

                 In one scene the history teacher points to the impotence of doing much research as well as writing dissertations by declaring: "You can rewrite a dissertation, but a soul is not paper!"

                 'Wait until Monday'  can be a tremendously moving film . Anyone who seriously suggests we should begin a custom where teachers watch it on the 1st September is neither  a crank or fool. It is a pity they don't make films like this anymore !

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