“Afonya”: a movie you might have missed

Afonya Borschov is not the type guy you want for a coworker. Trained as a plumber, the apartment buildings that are under his care are plagued with problems, because Afonya is lazy, careless, lies almost nonstop, feigns illness to get out of work assignments and signs off at quitting time even as water gushes from busted pipes. The film Afonya, produced by the legendary Mosfilm studios during the Soviet period, is mostly played for laughs, but before it is over, the film will become something of a meditation on the male midlife crisis.

The character Afonya is a well-known walking embarrassment to his profession, his photo being prominently displayed in a public kiosk illuminating shirkers and those who have failed in their work. Afonya’s route to work is filled with numerous detours and when he does finally arrive on the job he begins scheming on how to squeeze his neighbors for bribes or sell spare parts on the side.

After a payday he heads straight to a bar and gets properly drunk, sharing a bottle and numerous glasses of beer with another tradesman.  Upon stumbling into his apartment his girlfriend declares she is fed up and storms off. The next day his friend from the previous evening arrives with a folding bed under his arm, having just been given the heave-ho by his spouse, he takes up residence with Afonya and together, they and the apartment itself both begin to slowly deteriorate.

Afonya tries to change his luck by chasing girls that he thinks are of means or could do him some good, all the while ignoring a sweet and giving young paramedic named Katya who wants nothing more than to help Afonya become a decent human being.

Meanwhile the local collective is growing weary of keeping track of all of Afonya’s misdeeds and would rather all just go home and watch TV rather than dream up new disciplines to straighten out their least liked comrade. Eventually the vice-chair of the collective comes to his apartment and has a frank conversation with him, telling him that the worst type of person, the one who does the most damage to society in his estimation, is not the traitor or even the murderer, it is the indifferent. The conversation concludes with yet another job demotion, and this time, a warning that a termination is next.

In a brilliant scene, the increasingly depressed Afonya forces himself to have a good time at a pathetic café, where a sad band grinds out some traditional tunes with zero enthusiasm. In this crushing atmosphere of gloom, our hero attempts to perform a joyful dance amongst the disinterested patrons.    

Despite his obvious faults, Katya continues to pine for the seemingly loveless Afonya, and when they finally get together she informs him of a colleague at her own workplace that everyone thought was irredeemable, but that view was incorrect she proclaims, “all mistakes can be corrected.”        

In 1975, the film Afonya was the box office leader for the year in the Soviet Union. The story remains relatable and enjoyable today as well as being an interesting glimpse into the ups and downs of the Soviet experiment.

Photo: Wikipedia (CC)