Iaroslav Chevazhevskii’s film Kuka is set in St. Petersburg and follows the title character Kuka, a six-year-old girl who lives alone and is too independent for her age. Kuka is an orphan, who receives her Grandmother's pension and runs the house by herself; cooking, cleaning and doing the shopping. When her Grandmother dies the girl, fearing that she will be taken away to the children's home, keeps it a secret and lives alone in her Grandmother's house. Despite being completely alone in the world Kuka's only problem seems to come when she wants to leave the house as waiting for her is the mortal danger of a huge, toothy German shepherd (who she later befriends and keeps as a guard dog).
Juxtaposed against Kuka is the character of Lena, a 38 year-old woman, whose life it would seem is sorted - she lives in Moscow, has a career, a 'prestigious' boyfriend etc but Lena knows that this all leads nowhere and decides to move to St. Petersburg to do something more useful with her life. While out on a job with Social Services Lena and Kuka's paths cross, seeing that Kuka needs help Lena decides to track her down and offer her assistance. Having found out that Kuka is parentless Lena decides to adopt Kuka giving a happy end to this melodramatic fairytale.
Despite living completely on her own and being totally independent Kuka’s childhood is portrayed as a generally happy one; she does not need to worry about money, she plays in the park with other children, plays make-believe with her teddy bear, her only adversary is the dog who bars the entrance to her house (who she later befriends), and on the whole she does not seem upset by the absence of a parental figure from her life. In the end Lena is able to resolve her issues of not having a child by adopting Kuka and Kuka is able to return to the realm of childhood as she now has Lena to take over all the adult responsibilities.
Unfortunately, a childhood on the streets is a fairly common occurrence in the post-Soviet period; although it is hard to calculate exactly how many street children there are currently in Russia as a whole in St. Petersburg alone it is estimated that there are 16,000 street children. Sadly the situation is nothing new; following the Revolution and Civil War by 1922 there were an estimated seven million children living rough in stations, derelict houses, buildings sites, rubbish dumps, cellars, sewers and other squalid holes, and as with the street children of today begging, peddling, petty crime and prostitution were the means by which they survived.
When watching Kuka it is important to bear two things in mind; firstly, the director wanted to make a film that would raise awareness of the fact that there are a high number of street children living in Russia today, and secondly, that this is a fairytale. Kuka may be set in present day St. Petersburg but had it been filmed more realistically then it would have been a much darker, grittier film more akin perhaps to Lilia 4-eva or The Spot.
Sadly, I have yet to find a copy of this film with English subtitles meaning that only those who speak Russian can enjoy this wonderful film. I have managed to find a trailer of the film which gives a flavour of what happens in the full movie. As I said earlier, this is without a doubt one of my new favourite films.