A little gem buried in Venice’s New Territories sidebar, “Sky. Plane. Girl.” is at first glance an artfully shot and acted love story between a spacey airline hostess and a famous TV journalist but, by film’s end, turns out to be so much more. Its depth of feeling and characterization come from Edward Radzinsky’s play “104 Pages About Love,” which was a mid-’60s sensation in the USSR and became a film directed by Gheorghi Natanson in 1968 called “Once More Love.” Here, debuting helmer Vera Storozheva gives the kooky, otherworldly heroine Lara almost a feminist twist by concentrating on her emotional truth, echoed in pic’s spare, essential visuals. With TLC, it may be able to jump outside festivals to specialized release, where it will be of particular interest to female viewers.
Stalking through a deserted airport late at night, Lara (Renata Litvinova, who also worked on the screenplay and co-produced) looks like the butt of a blonde joke. Her coquettish smile and fluttering indecision in front of the night barman (a Humphrey Bogartish Konstantin Murzenko) attract the attention of Gheorghi (Dimitri Orlov), a big-name TV reporter waiting to catch a plane. This chance meeting opens onto a love affair that draws him deeper and deeper into her strange, unstable personality, until he recognizes what she means to him — too late. The ending, though not much of a surprise, is genuinely sad.
Hyper-feminine and spontaneous, the angular-faced beauty Litvinova really could pass for “the prettiest girl in Moscow”; when she sings at a party, she makes Lara sound like Marilyn Monroe. Gradually, however, other layers are exposed, revealing her to be an intuitive, loyal and generous person full of deep feelings. She gently refuses passes by the captain of her plane (Mikhail Efremov) who has a crush on her, and gives presents to her timid co-stewardess Mouse (Inge Strelkova-Oboldina), who is hopelessly in love with the captain. As the TV war correspondent, Orlov is an attractive, self-assured adventurer of few words, but too idealized to be a match for Lara’s complexity. The small supporting cast, in which Strelkova-Oboldina stand outs, plays comically for contrast.
Storozheva and cinematographer Mikhail Krichman embrace a bare ’60s look that cuts out unnecessary detail in the frame, leaving all the attention on the characters. The abstraction of the camerawork is heightened in a few resonant cutaways to skies billowing with clouds and airplanes lined up on a snow-swept steppe at night. Production design by Alena Shkermontova follows the line of sophisticated minimalism, while Alexei Shelygin’s ironic score gives just the right amount of distance.