Love's Berries

Love's Berry is, in fact, the first independent director and script-writing work by Oleksandr Dovzhenko created at VUFKU studio in 1926. We have a short comedy about a man called Jean Kovbasyuk, a hairdresser and a lover who falls into a trap one day – his mistress Lisa comes to see him with a baby. She tells nothing about the child to Kovbasyuk and he asks nothing, that is the reason for all of the upcoming misunderstandings in the film.

At some point, the girl asks to look after the baby because he wants to leave for a few minutes to drink some water. But in two hours Kovbasyuk understands that the girl will not return and that the baby is now his to take care. Of course, he does not need a child, so the hairdresser looks for a way to get rid of it. Meanwhile, Lisa goes to people's court where files a lawsuit against Kovbasyuk.

Then the story develops as a screwball comedy and thriller at the same time. The comic episodes in the film are both funny and creepy: the poor baby is in very dangerous circumstances that can pose a threat to their health and life, and the people who get to take care of the baby in the plot, are desperately trying to get rid of the child and get into a rather complex and ambiguous situations.

Love's Berry is still perceived by many as a comedy on a domestic topic. However, in many ways, it can be read as a universal and even archetypal story about the violent birth of a new world and no one wants to be held accountable for it. The lovechild of Kovbasyuk and Lisa, in the end, turns out to be not theirs – the girl brought the child on a date in order to finally get the philanderer hairdresser to marry her.

This new world has completely run free from some primary foundations of the traditional way of life, where procreation took place only in a lawful and sanctified family, was a necessary part of family life and did not represent a burden or, moreover, the subject of blackmail. The film accurately recreated a new era as the period of complete selfishness and fatherlessness that later on turned into universal estrangement between the members of the Soviet family and the emergence of the figure of Pavlik Morozov.

Love's Berry is full of incessant action, change of circumstances and situations. It's an adventure movie in its purest. The movement here determines everything and it is associated with constant change and recovery status of the character. Whenever Kovbasyuk gets rid of a child, the child is returned to him. This circulation of the child in society – terrible in its essence – makes us turn to certain psychoanalytic concepts in which a separate material object circulating between the subjects and acts as a guarantor of their symbolic relations. Such an object is able to change the fate of the main characters. And it can be anything and even anyone - including a child.The newly acquired object suddenly breaks the balance and starts a series of unpredictable actions, as well as deprives the participants of the social game of their status quo, allowing changes to occur. Alfred Hitchcock often used that kind of an object to draw his characters into a dangerous game in his films. In Love's Berry, the game is also dangerous and the source of danger here are the Soviet authorities itself with its special rules.

We mean the formation of the Soviet Institute of the family which took several stages to build. At first, Soviet family was very liberal: young people lived quite freely and did not have extraordinary responsibilities, in particular, with regard to their own children. Subsequently, the situation changed, and you could be hurt for a free way of life, the way that Jean Kovbasyuk practised. A special Soviet attitude to childbirth, alimony and forced marriage is being formed that has become one of the most recognizable elements of the Soviet system. These processes were eventually joined by the general public and the public authorities that strongly interfered the personal lives of Soviet citizens. Pregnancy and the birth of a child automatically assumed marriage – it was an unspoken rule that concerned the then extramarital sex life. The child had to have a father, otherwise, the woman was a disgrace.

Considering this notion, it is worth watching another film made in Odesa in 1992, directed by Alexander Pavlovsky,  A Child by November. Together, these two films form a kind of frame to understand Soviet life, so to speak, at the beginning and end of the era. A Child by November tells a story about an ambulance nurse Dasha who needs to find a way to get an apartment in a new house. But you can't come up with many ideas, all within the framework of the then, still Soviet rules. One of the unwritten rules, though, seems to say that a single mother with a child will be for sure given an apartment, regardless of other circumstances.

Thus Dasha decides to get pregnant. The task seems not to be an easy one because the men around her are quite unprepared for fatherhood. That is, at the beginning and at the end of the Soviet times we see almost the same situation: fatherhood does not attract men, and for women, it is only a tool to solve their problems. At the same time, A Child by November was created at the turn of eras: the new home, the new year, and pregnancy here are the symbols of qualitatively different times with new rules. From now on, the child is the fruit of love, not a forced step to achieve social benefits.

Today, Love's Berry, even despite being a bit archaic in social and cinematic points of view, feels quite fresh for film consumption. The relevant content, the genre certainty and a certain flair of nostalgia – not about the times lost but about the city that used to have so many things to remember - it all makes the film interesting today. Oleksandr Dovzhenko's film in this sense, will not help the memory but will at least stimulate the imagination.