Nidia, a gauche, pretty, young country-girl waitressing in a roadside canteen, falls in love with Maxim, an itinerant geologist with the dark flashing eyes and romantic elusiveness of a gypsy. Smitten, she quits the job and follows him to the city. There she finds work as a maid in the home of the intriguing Valentina – who is also in love with Maxim.
Muratova explores the intricate triangular relationship of these three striking individuals with clarity, tenderness and irony... A beautifully organised, associative time-structure heightens the poignance of the relationship which assumes the least importance to the characters, but takes on the most importance to us: the uneasy contract between Nidia and Valentina.
Muratova herself plays Valentina. Her performance is a marvel in its full, clearly delineated portrait of a rich and complex character.
Valentina is a bright, energetic woman of the world... She seems driven in her career by what elsewhere might be considered liberal idealism... [and] finds the banal world of the majority of her sex completely boring... Much of the pointed poignance of the film lies in our perceiving how much she may in fact owe to that homely world – and vice versa.
There’s not the space to catalogue the felicities in the direction of this extraordinary first film. The cinematography is crisp, beautiful, and for 1967, daringly, but expressively, unconventional. There are brief encounters with a dozen other characters who register with singular vividness. The 20 years it was banned by Soviet censors could not diminish the originality of this exquisite film. It has become an instant classic. — Bill Gosden