Alexey Fedorchenko / Russia / 2012 / 102 min
There are some odd offerings at the Edinburgh International Film Festival but Alexey Fedorchenko’s nearly uncategorisable exploration of rites and rituals among the Volga-Finnic people of northern Russia may be chief among them. Presented as a series of brief vignettes, Celestial Wives tells the stories of 22 women (their names always beginning with “O”) who are alternately worshipped, feared, adored, shunned and betrayed. Their reactions and the results may be erotic, playful or grotesque, but are always bizarre: a love rival causes a shrieking bird to nest in a woman’s womb, the village virgins enact a dreamy drunken ritual, a young bride falls prey to a snake.
The visuals are every bit as colourful as the subject matter demands, with lingering shots of a bowl of rotting apples or an offering of a pile of eggs appearing as lush still life images. Indeed the whole effect is often of a painting set in motion, the sometimes stark colours of the landscape set against the vivid homes and clothing of the people. There is a documentary-like aspect to the whole: some of the cast are professional actors, whilst others are natives of the area. So where does the fact end and the fiction begin? Celestial Wives is a fascinating insight into the traditions of this area, and a powerful celebration of strong women.