Walking the tightrope: the art of balance in the biography of Natalia Varley

One of the main beauties of Soviet cinema of the 1960s and 1970s has been adored by several generations of viewers – both as the romantic Nina from The Prisoner of the Caucasus and the sinister Pannochka from the ageless adaptation of Gogol’s Viy. Today, June 22, Natalya Varley turned 75 years old. Izvestia joins the congratulations.

Irresistible and formidable

Natalya Varley became a national favorite, playing the main role in Leonid Gaidai’s 1966 comedy “Prisoner of the Caucasus, or Shurik’s New Adventures.” However, after this seemingly dazzling success, the newly ascended movie star was not too eager to act further and part with the circus, which she fell in love with as a child, and then graduated from the acrobatic department of the State School of Circus and Variety Arts with a degree in balancing act.

Perhaps the movie would not have dragged Natalya Varley after the “Prisoner of the Caucasus” if not for the next sentence. The role of Pannochka in the adaptation of Gogol’s story “Viy” promised the aspiring actress the opportunity to try something completely opposite to the radiant cheerful “Caucasian captive” Nina, “a student, athlete, Komsomol member and just a beauty.” It seems that this impeccable and irresistible Nina was specially fashioned by Gaidai as a poster image of an ideal girl without flaw, whose image does not require hard mental work from the actress: it is enough to demonstrate her natural abilities and circus physical training, a sparkle in her eyes and a white-toothed smile.

And Nadezhda Rumyantseva, who voiced Nina, with her fervent voice and infantile laugh, finally turns the heroine from the Soviet pin up girl in incredible purple tights almost into a cartoon character. The director’s decision to entrust the voice acting of Nina to a professional actress caused Natalya Varley a severe psychological trauma, which was hardly fully compensated by the compliment of the classic of Soviet cinema and the director of Mosfilm, Ivan Pyriev, who, after watching the working material of The Prisoner of the Caucasus, said: “This girl can make a new Love Orlova!

Shot from the film “Viy”

Photo: Luch

Find your director

About what (more precisely, who) Natalya Varley was not enough to turn into a cinematic icon of the same scale as Orlova, the actress reflects in her autobiography “Rope Walker”: “In order to become the“ new Lyubov Orlova ”, there are not enough external data, abilities , diligence, talent and coincidence! For this, Grigory Alexandrov is needed, who will collect all this, save it, find suitable material, worthy framing, and be able to vividly present … “

The importance of meeting your director is one of the leitmotifs in the book by Natalia Varley, who defines life as “a complex, painful and often dangerous balance between love and dislike, justice and injustice, understanding and misunderstanding” … In her memoirs, the actress is far from being complain about his career failure, but he understands too well that without the director who saw you correctly, the actor will remain only partially realized: “Prisoner of the Caucasus” and “Viya” … But even in the most passing and already forgotten films, sometimes I myself see what the potential was.

Shot from the film “Prisoner of the Caucasus”

Photo: Goskino

circus princess

Before The Prisoner of the Caucasus, Natalia Varley already had some cinematic experience, having started acting between the first and second years of the circus school: first, in the diploma short film by VGIK graduate Elyer Ishmukhamedov based on the story by Alexander Grin “New Year’s holiday of father and little daughter.” Since Green remains one of Natalya Varley’s most beloved writers, and something from his quivering heroine, stubbornly waiting for unrealizable scarlet sails, one way or another shines through in all the women she played. Even in those who can be considered negative heroines, although Varley has one or two such ones. And in Gogol’s witch Pannochka there is something infinitely sad and touching, and even the evil sorceress Bastinda from Pavel Arsenov’s film “The Wizard of the Emerald City” melts in the finale as tragically as the gentle Snow Maiden, causing sincere sympathy.

The Snow Maiden is an image that seems to ideally correspond to the psychophysics of Natalya Varley, during her years of study at the B.V. Schukin, who worked part-time as the daughter of Santa Claus on city Christmas trees, and then played the heroine of the play of the same name by Ostrovsky in the play by the chief director of the Theater. Vakhtangov Evgenia Simonova. “Today, when I have played so many roles – both classical and modern, it can be said with full confidence that in the list of the most expensive, most desired and closest Snegurochka is at the very beginning of this list,” Natalya Varley writes in her book, in all the heroines of which there is something from the Snow Maiden: some kind of internal freezing, tension, alertness and fear of the human warmth emanating from men who are sometimes too persistently drawn to her beauty, kindness and charm.

Shot from the film “Solo for an Elephant and Orchestra”

Photo: Filmove Studio Barrandov

Change of fate

Having become a movie star after The Prisoner of the Caucasus and Viy, Varley took a break from filming while studying at the theater institute, but already at the end of her third year, the excellent student was allowed to star in the military drama Gold by Damir Vyatich-Berezhnykh based on the novel by Boris Polevoy. In this film, it is almost impossible to recognize the star of Gaidai’s comedy, and not only because Varley, in the role of a typist of the state bank, saving 17 kg of national treasures from the Nazis, turned into a blonde with curls, but also because the drawing of the role here is completely different, more intricate, requiring internal transformation as the heroine transforms from a cheerful, frivolous girl into an adult, faced with death face to face.

The acting colors found by Varley in “Gold”, conveying the horror of such a collision, were then used by Alexander Alov and Vladimir Naumov in “Running”, where the episodic “girl with a goat” performed by Varley becomes one of the symbols of despair: “Suddenly a girl appears on the battlefield who runs and drags a goat behind her on a rope. Runs, falls into the mud, jumps up and runs again. And something is screaming. She is almost inaudible behind the clatter and roar, but it is clear from her articulation that she is trying to stop the fight, the fratricidal massacre, ”recalls Natalya Varley.

In her filmography, military dramas in the 1970s coexisted with peppy comedies, sometimes with circus plots (for example, the Czech-Soviet co-production “Elephant Solo with Orchestra”), where, as before, “a pretty, folded girl with a sports figure” was still required. as the actress herself puts it. But even in such unpretentious one-dimensional roles, Natalya Varley, with her sadness hidden in her eyes, effortlessly brings volume and mystery, making one suspect some kind of complex backstory of the character left behind the scenes (although, perhaps, even the script authors did not think about it).

Shot from the film “Downpour”

Photo: Uzbekfilm

This sad shadow, this feeling of fragility, vulnerability and defenselessness of the heroine, which gives the whole plot an additional subtlety and breakdown, is felt in the best works of Natalia Varley. In the psychological drama of Uchkun Nazarov “Downpour”, where she personifies the female fear of loneliness and a desperate thirst for impossible happiness. Or in Vladimir Bortko’s melodrama My Dad Is an Idealist, where her heroine, an operetta artist who parted with her dream of dancing Giselle, is the embodiment of vulnerability and complexes. Or in the film by Lev Mirsky “So It Will Be”, where Varley, in fact, has two roles – in her youth and 20 years later, but in both guises she remains a principled woman who does not understand a too “businesslike”, pragmatic worldview and careless game on other people’s feelings.

The characters played by Natalya Varley invariably embody in a variety of films an honest, serious and careful attitude to other people’s emotions, even if it is a seemingly carefree comedy, as, for example, in the TV movie “Three Days in Moscow” by Alexei Korenev. In its finale, the sensitive junior lieutenant of police Olya performs a lyrical hit, no less popular than the “Song about Bears” from “Prisoner of the Caucasus” – “You are talking to me about love”: Natalya Varley is again forced to sing not in her own voice, but so sad and piercingly looks from the screen, as if every word of the song is born in the soul of the heroine right before our eyes.

Leave a Reply