Prominent Russians: Nonna Mordyukova
Nonna Mordyukova was a great and gifted actress. This genuine Cossack woman was one of the most beloved film stars of the Soviet Union. The actress managed to achieve a sky-high career in cinema by having created true images of Russian women. Mordyukova is listed among the top 10 most outstanding actresses of the 20th century by the British Film Encyclopedia. The actress starred in more than 60 films, acting parts of ordinary, but strong-willed Russian women.
Nonna Mordyukova was born into a large Cossack family in Konstantinovka settlement, Donetsk province, Ukraine. Her father was Viktor Konstantinovich Mordyukov. Her mother was Irina Petrovna Mordyukova. She was the eldest child in a large family, that a collective farm chairwoman. Nonna spent her childhood in the settlement where her mother worked. There Nonna survived the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Young Nonna was fond of movies and had a dream of becoming an actress. From 1945 to 1950 she studied acting at Soviet State Institute of Cinema (VGIK).
From talented student to movie star
As a student she starred in a dramatization of Aleksandr Fadeyev's The Young Guard, about a group of teenage partisans in Donetsk. In 1948, director Sergey Gerasimov filmed the story with many of the students, including Mordyukova. Her film debut as Ulyana Gromova, the female lead, was a big success. Mordyukova became an instant celebrity in the Soviet Union and was awarded the State Stalin Prize for the role.
In the following string of movies she became typecast as a peasant woman, and eventually established herself as an epitome of the strong-willed Russian woman. That year she married her co-star Vyacheslav Tikhonov and they were together for 13 years before parting. The couple had a son, Vladimir (his life was later ruined as he became a drug addict and died very young).
Episodic roles make Mordyukova leading actress
In 1950, Nonna Mordyukova graduated from the institute and was admitted to the Theater studio of film acting. A remarkable event was her episodic role of kolkhoz girl Nastya Ogorodnikova in the film The Return of Vasily Bortnikov in 1952. The young actress was so truthful and convincing that director Vsevolod Pudovkin wanted to give her the lead. The replacement did not happen, but the supporting part was noticed.
The movie industry finally discovered actress Mordyukova and film directors began to entrust her with leading roles. A big success was Mikhail Shveytser’s film Other People's Relatives in 1955, in the role of Stesha Ryashkina, with which she captured folk intonations and village manners. Her heroine is enduring a long and poignant rebirth when breaking up with her shady family of grabbers for the sake of her love for her husband. The young actress showed the pain of this path with amazing power. The film became a landmark event in cinema of the 1950s and in life of the actress.
In a range of roles, including episodic, but so memorable and bright, Nonna Mordyukova developed the theme of a simple and strong woman with tough life. Her roles inspired playwright Budimir Metalnikov to write A simple story for her in 1960. In this film Mordyukova played one of her best roles. Her transformation from grief to a hard-won victory was among her standout performances. Her young widow Sasha Potapova, who is all of a sudden burdened with chairmanship in a poorly performing collective farm, is very convincing. The actress conveys the drama and hardships of the “bright way” from a common farm worker to a chairwoman and the bitterness of hopeless love.
The Commissar woman
Aleksandr Askoldov wrote The Commissar in 1967 especially for Mordyukova. Made in 1967, the film was censored for 20 years, and director Aleksandr Askoldov was prosecuted by the communist party. In the The Commissar the actress unexpectedly appeared in quite an ambiguous image of female commissar Klava Vavilova who almost lost her femininity during the Civil War and was regaining it in her maternity. The actress brilliantly balances the character's militaristic strength and the love of a mother-to-be.
The film was internationally acclaimed and Mordyukova won several awards (none in her homeland). Only during Gorbachyov's Perestroika and Glasnost was the film released to the public, winning several international awards, such as the Silver Bear at the Berlinale-1988.
Mordyukova was also at home in comedies. She very aptly and vividly grasped social types. Her housing office activist in The Diamond Arm in 1968 directed by Leonid Gaidai became a mocking satire on a well-known type of an importunate female joiner. And her tedious hausfrau in Balzaminov's Wedding in 1965 is unforgettable.
Eldar Ryazanov, the other leading Soviet comedy director, also used Mordyukova for a key supporting role. In his bittersweet prison comedy Railway station for two in 1983, she played alongside Lyudmila Gurchenko, Oleg Basilashvili, and Nikita Mikhalkov. The film, which was seen by millions across the Soviet Union and is one of the most popular films of the 1980s, was nominated for a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983.
During the ’70s and ’80s she remained one of the most popular actresses in the Soviet Union. Mordyukova became so well-loved that, in Kinfolk in 1981, director Nikita Mikhalkov knew she would win sympathy for the slightly pitiable provincial matriarch.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mordyukova had a slowdown in her career. During the last 15 years of her life, she was cast only in three films. After Mama, her last work in 1999, the story of a mother reuniting her children after a failed attempt to escape the Soviet Union, Mordyukova retired to avoid typecasting. At that time, she wrote the book of memoirs Don't cry, Cossack woman.
In the course of a film career that lasted over 50 years, she played over 60 leading and supporting roles in Soviet film and television productions.
Nonna Mordyukova was designated People's actress of the USSR in 1974. She was awarded State Prizes of the USSR and Russia, and received numerous decorations from the Soviet and Russian governments. Nonna Mordyukova died of heart failure and lung disease in a Moscow hospital, and was laid to rest in Kuntsevskoe Cemetery in Moscow.
Written by Tatiana Klevantseva for RT