The Moscow Times is reporting that Tatiana Samoilova, the actress best known for her performances in The Cranes Are Flying (1957), Letter Never Sent (1959) and Anna Karenina (1967), was celebrating her 80th birthday yesterday when she fell ill and was taken to the hospital. According to Sergei Lazaruk, deputy chairman of the Russian cinematographers union, she died early this morning.
Mikhail Kalatozov’s Cranes is the only Soviet film to ever win the Palme d’or at Cannes, where Samoilova also received an honorary award for “Most Modest and Charming Actress.” Reviewing the film in 2002, Scott Tobias called it “a key post-war effort, both for its cinematic audacity and for its frank, moving depiction of families and lovers torn apart by violence. A movie star that never was, Kalatozov’s captivating tragedienne Tatiana Samoilova matches his intensity and bravado.”
Reviewing Aleksandr Zarkhi’s Anna Karenina in 2006, Gary Giddins wrote, “According to the Internet Movie Database, Anna has been filmed 25 times between 1910 and 2005…, but I doubt if there is a more nuanced portrayal than that of Tatiana Samojlova, often cited as the great Russian actress of her generation.”
Update, 5/8: For the New York Times, Sophia Kishkovsky reports that a recent interview has been published since Samoilova. The actress recalls having been allowed to travel to Cannes but not to work in the West. Still, she got to meet Picasso:
“I remember,” she said, “this amazing person said to me: ‘Today you walk along the boulevard and no one knows you. But tomorrow you will be driving in a car through Hollywood.’ And his prediction almost came true! Already at the festival, Gérard Philipe gave me a watch as a gift and invited me to star in ‘Anna Karenina’ with him. Can you imagine how dazzled I was by the prospect? I thought: ‘Well, it’s begun!’ But my return to the U.S.S.R. brought me back down to earth.”
At Samoilova’s funeral on Wednesday, reports Kishkovsky, “fellow actors, directors and other artists spoke of her artistic gift. But several also spoke of the difficult lives of elderly actors in Russia, including Ms. Samoilova, whose financial status did not reflect the money they had earned for the Soviet state.”
Update, 5/12: In the Guardian, Ronald Bergan looks back initial reactions to Cranes: “Unlike the stereotypical western vision of Soviet womanhood—hefty, heroic, smiling tractor-drivers among the corn—derived from years of socialist realist films, Samoilova came as a revelation. Here was a seductive, sensitive and serious young woman with whom international audiences could sympathize. At the time, Samoilova was given a watch by East German fans during a festival with the inscription: ‘Finally we see on the Soviet screen a face, not a mask.'” And as for Anna Karenina: “This 10th screen version of the Tolstoy novel, in lush Sovcolor, can lay claim to being the best. Its director Alexandr Zarkhi, using the 70mm screen effectively, comes closer to Tolstoy’s romance than previous versions, with Samoilova’s brilliantly nuanced Anna matching such screen luminaries as Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh.”