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Vladimir Menshov, Surprise Russian Oscar Winner, Dies at 81

Vladimir Menshov, the prolific Soviet actor and director whose film “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” won the Academy Award in 1980 for best foreign-language film but was panned by many American critics, died on July 5 in a hospital in Moscow. He was 81.

Mosfilm, the Russian film studio and production company, said the cause was complications of Covid-19.

“Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” a soapy, melodramatic crowd-pleaser, attracted some 90 million moviegoers in the Soviet Union even after it had been broadcast on television, not long after it was released theatrically in 1980. Its theme song, “Alexandra,” written by Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina, became one of the country’s most beloved pieces of movie music.

Even so, when “Moscow,” only the second film Mr. Menshov had directed, won the Oscar, it was a surprise, given the competition that year. It edged out François Truffaut’s “The Last Metro” and Akira Kurosawa’s “The Shadow Warrior,” as well as the Spanish director Jaime de Armiñán’s “The Nest” and the Hungarian director Istvan Szabo’s “Confidence.”

“There was more condescending good will than aesthetic discrimination behind the Oscar voted to ‘Moscow,’” Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote when he reviewed the film, which was released in the United States after its Oscar victory.

The film follows three girls quartered at a Moscow hotel for young women in the late 1950s as they hunt for male companionship, and then revisits them 20 years later. It starred Vera Alentova, the director’s wife and the mother of their daughter, Yuliya Menshova. They both survive him.

Mr. Arnold noted that Mr. Menshov’s movie “revives a genre Hollywood has failed to sustain, reliable as it would seem: the chronicle of provincial girls, usually a trio, in pursuit of careers and/or mates in the big city” — a genre that ranged chronologically, at the time, from “Stage Door” (1938) to “Valley of the Dolls” (1967).

Vincent Canby of The New York Times conceded that the film was “decently acted” but said that at two and a half hours, it “seems endless.”

There are suggestions of social satire from time to time,” Mr. Canby wrote, “but they are so mild they could surprise and interest only an extremely prudish, unreconstructed Stalinist.”

While he considered it understandable that “Moscow” was one of the Soviet Union’s most successful films, Mr. Canby concluded, “One can also believe that portion of Mr. Menshov’s biography (contained in the program) that reports he failed his first three years at the Cinema Institute in Moscow and wasn’t much more successful as an acting student with the Moscow Art Theater.

“I assume we are told these things,” he added tartly, “to underscore the lack of meaning in these early failures, which, however, appear to be summed up in his Oscar winner.”

Vladimir Valentinovich Menshov was born on Sept. 17, 1939, to a Russian family in Baku (now in Azerbaijan). His father, Valentin, was an officer with the secret police. His mother, Antonina Aleksandrovna (Dubovskaya) Menshov, was a homemaker.

As a teenager, Vladimir held blue-collar jobs as a machinist, a miner and a sailor before being admitted to the Moscow Art Theater School. After graduating from the school in 1965 and from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in 1970, he worked for the Mosfilm, Lenfilm and Odessa Film studios.

He had more than 100 credits as an actor and was also a screenwriter. He made his debut as a director in 1976 with the film “Practical Joke.”

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