Foregrounding folkloric elements with an emphasis on female sexuality and fertility, "Celestial Wives" is too amorphous to be consistently amusing or interesting.

Aleksei Fedorchenko’s fascination with ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation finds a new focus with “Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari.” Marketed as a “Decameron” of the Meadow Mari people, a distinct group from the eastern Volga region known as the last pagans of Europe, the pic is a series of 23 short stories about different women whose names begin with the letter “O.” Foregrounding folkloric elements with an emphasis on female sexuality and fertility, “Celestial Wives” is too amorphous to be consistently amusing or interesting, and won’t attract the same attention as the helmer’s “Silent Souls.”

There seems to be no order to the tales, varying in length but joined, more or less, by a delight in animistic practices apparently still part of the Mari’s lives (unlike the debatable re-creations in “Silent Souls”). These include shamanistic rituals, a forest giant, a lady cursed with a chirping bird lodged in her privates, and a dance in which nude women are doused, Slushie-style, with the fruit soup known as kissel. “Celestial Wives” celebrates female empowerment, yet it’s too unstructured to be more than a curiosity. Lensing and costumes are always appealing.

Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari

Russia

Production

A 29th February Film, Kenpo-Kaliy production with the participation of Red Arrow Film. (International sales: 29th February Film, Ekaterinburg, Russia.) Produced by Dmitry Vorobyev, Aleksei Fedorchenko. Co-producers, Mikhail Shchukin, Leonid Lebedev. Directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko. Screenplay, Denis Osokin, based on his book.

Crew

Camera (color), Shandor Berkeshy; editor, Roman Vazhenin; music, Andrei Karasev; production designer, Zorikto Dorzhiev, Artem Habibulin; costume designer, Olga Gusak; sound (Dolby Digital), Timofey Shestakov. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Nov. 10, 2012. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Yuliya Aug, Yana Esipovich, Vasiliy Domrachev, Daria Ekamasova, Olga Dobrina, Yana Troyanova, Olga Degtyarova, Alexandr Ivashkevich, Yana Sexte, Andrei Osipov. (Mari, Russian dialogue)

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