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 Nonna Mordyukova

Born:   25 November 1925
Deceased:   07 July 2008



Nonna Mordyukova was one of the most popular actresses of Soviet Russian cinema; a bright, integral and whole-hearted person, she stands out as a symbolic figure in modern Russian cinema art. In her roles she incarnated the best features of whole generations of strong Russian women. Her partners were the best actors of the Soviet period, among them Vasili Shukshin, Yuri Nikulin, Valentin Zubkov, Mikhail Ulyanov and others.

Nonna (Noyabrina) Viktorovna was born on November 25, 1925 into a large family in the Cossack village of Konstantinovskaya, Donetsk Region, Ukraine. Nonna spent her childhood in a settlement were her mother worked as chairwoman of kolkhoz (collective farm). In 1946 Nonna Mordyukova entered the Actors’ Faculty of VGIK and studied there under Boris Bibikov and Olga Pyzhova.


With her husband Vyacheslav Tikhonov
Nonna Mordyukova played her debut film role, which at once brought her official recognition and nationwide people’s love, in Sergei Gerasimov’s film Molodaya gvardiya (The Young Guard) (1948) featuring her as Uliana Gromova, a heroine of the Red Don underground. In this role combining lofty romanticism with veracity of factual biography, the black-haired Cossack beauty was yet somewhat constrained, which, however, did not impede her moving emotional acting in tragic scenes of the film. The role of Volodya Osmukhin, her partner in The Young Guard was played by Vyacheslav Tikhonov, who married Nonna Mordyukova in 1948 (they were together for 13 years and then parted).

In 1950 Nonna Mordyukova graduated from the institute and was admitted to the Theatre Studio of Film Actor. A remarkable event was her episodic role of kolkhoz girl Nastia Ogorodnikova in the film Vozvrashcheniye Vasiliya Bortnikova (The Return of Vasili Bortnikov) (1952).

Other People's Relatives (1955)
The young actress was so truthful and convincing in that image that the film director Vsevolod Pudovkin wanted to give her the lead. The replacement did not happen then, but that small role was decisive: film industry finally discovered actress Mordyukova - film directors started to entrust her with leading roles.

Another success was Mikhail Shvejtser’s film Chuzhaya rodnya (Other People's Relatives) (1955), where she played her role of Stesha Ryashkina with great veracity of folk intonations and village manners. Her heroine is going through a long and poignant rebirth when breaking up with her shady family of grabbers for the sake of her love to her husband. The young actress showed the pain of this path with amazing power. The film became a landmark event in cinema of the 1950s and in life of Nonna Viktorovna.


A Simple Story (1960) (With Vasili Shukshin)
In a range of roles, including those episodic, and yet memorable, bright and intense, the acting theme of Nonna Mordyukova was developing: the theme of a simple and strong woman of hard fate. Her roles inspired playwright Budimir Metalnikov to write for her Prostaya istoriya (A Simple Story) (1960) (film director Yuri Yegorov). In this film Mordyukova played one of her best roles – young widow Sasha Potapova who is all of a sudden burdened with chairmanship in a poorly performing collective farm. The actress conveys the drama and hardships of the “bright way” from a common farm worker to a chairwoman, the bitterness of hopeless love and transformation of the soul, gaining dignity.

The role of Donya Trubnikova in the film Predsedatel (The Chairman) (1964) by Aleksei Saltykov was also a big achievement of the actress. According to the scenario Donya was an ideally negative character: a wife of an individual farmer (they were criticized in the epoch of kolkhozes), a rude loud-mouthed woman who, above all, has a baby from a fascist occupant.


Balzaminov's Marriage (1965) (With Georgi Vitsin)
In comedies Mordyukova very aptly and vividly grasped social types, be it stately, dreary-voiced tradeswoman Belotelova in Zhenitba Balzaminova (Balzaminov's Marriage) (1965) by Konstantin Voynov or grasping and wolfish official’s wife Pristyzhnyuk in Tridtsat tri (33) (1965) by Georgi Daneliya. Her housing office activist in Brilliantovaya ruka (The Diamond Arm) (1968) directed by Leonid Gaidai became a mocking satire on a well-known type of an importunate female joiner.


The Commissar (1967)

In the picture Komissar (The Commissar) (1967) by Aleksandr Askoldov the actress unexpectedly appeared in quite an ambiguous image of female commissar Klava Vavilova who had almost lost her feminine essence during Civil War and was regaining it in her maternity. The actor aptly used the actress’s inherent paradoxical combination of remarkable strength and gentle womanliness.

The character of Feodosia Ugrumova in drama Russkoye pole (Russian Field) (1971) by Nikolai Moskalenko became an integrating symbol. In this feature Nonna Mordyukova co-starred with her own son, Vladimir Tikhonov (who was born in 1948 and died in 1990 of drug overdose).

Russian Field (1971) (With Leonid Markov)
The film was a great success with the public and made a paragon of people’s cinema, just like the film Vozvrata net (No Return) (1973) by Aleksei Saltykov, in which the actress played simple peasant woman Antonina Kashirina, abandoned by her husband for their daughter-in-law. Both the films consolidated her right to speak on behalf of Russian women about their inescapable hard lot, steadfast strength and unbending dignity. This was also confirmed by the small yet significant role of soldier’s wife Natalya in the film Oni srazhalis za rodinu (They Fought for Their Country) (1975) by Sergei Bondarchuk.

The late 1970s marked a turning point in the creative career of the actress. Famous playwright Viktor Merezhko offered her surprising drama stuff that radically changed her line. In the moving drama feature Tryasina (Quagmire) (1978) by Grigorii Chukhrai Mordyukova played the role of a mother whose blind tyrannical love was driving her son to desertion and finally to death. The actress’s line was literally turned inside out in that film.


Kinfolk (1981)
The second attempt of Viktor Merezhko to expand the limits of Nonna Mordyukova’s type was a resounding success. The familiar and yet new Mordyukova was hardly recognizable in the image of scandalous Maria Konovalova in Rodnya (Kinfolk) (1981) by Nikita Mikhalkov.

In post-Soviet Russia the People’s Artist retired from stage and was very seldom into filming; she lived with meetings with viewers, writing the book of memoirs Ne plach, kazachka (Don’t Cry, Cossack Woman) and participating in festivals as a jury member.


Her last work was in the film Mama (Mummy) (1999) by film-director Denis Yevstigneyev. After it the actress refused to act any more, since it was the age when only roles of old dames could be offered.

Nonna Mordyukova is in the top ten of the 20th century foremost actresses according to the British Cinema Encyclopedia "Who is who". Of all other Russian actresses only Faina Ranevskaya has been honoured with such dignity.

Planet 4022 of the Solar System is named after Nonna Mordyukova.

Read about other Russian Actresses


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