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Russian Movie Star Tatiana Samoilova Dies: 'The Russian Audrey Hepburn'

Russian movie star Tatiana SamoilovaRussian movie star Tatiana Samoilova dead at 80; known as 'the Russian Audrey Hepburn,' Samoilova was best remembered for Cannes winner 'The Cranes Are Flying' (photo: Tatiana Samoilova in 'The Cranes Are Flying')

Russian film star Tatiana Samoilova, best remembered for playing the female lead in Mikhail Kalatozov's 1957 romantic drama The Cranes Are Flying, died of heart complications at Moscow's Botkin Hospital late night on May 4, 2014 — the day the Leningrad-born (now St. Petersburg) actress turned 80. Samoilova, who had been suffering from coronary heart disease and hypertension, had been hospitalized the previous day.

The daughter of iconic stage and film actor Yevgeny Samoilov, among whose credits was the title role in a 1954 production of Hamlet and several leads in highly popular movies made during World War II, Tatiana Samoilova studied ballet at Moscow's prestigious Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko music theater. Beginning in 1953, she took acting lessons for three years at the Boris Shchukin Theater Institute; during that time, she was featured in one movie, Vladimir Kaplunovskiy's The Mexican / Meksikanets.

'The Cranes Are Flying'

Tatiana Samoilova's second film appearance was in Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying / Letyat zhuravli, based on a play by Viktor Rozov, who also wrote the film's screenplay. The beautifully shot tale of the doomed love affair between young Muscovites Veronika and Boris (Samoilova and Aleksey Batalov), torn apart by the outbreak of World War II, The Cranes Are Flying went on to win the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival — to date, the only Russian (then Soviet) film to receive that honor*. Samoilova, for her part, earned a Special Mention at Cannes, reportedly for being the festival's "Most Modest and Charming Actress." Additionally, both The Cranes Are Flying and Samoilova were nominated for the British Academy BAFTA Awards (in the now defunct international categories).

Since that time, many have compared Tatiana Samoilova to Audrey Hepburn — and really, such comparisons haven't been off the mark. After all, both actresses had similar "exotic" looks; big and expressive dark eyes; and the same poised demeanor. (They were also born on the same day; Hepburn would have turned 85 on May 4.) Had there been a Hollywood remake, Hepburn could easily have played Veronika in The Cranes Are Flying, much like Samoilova would have been perfectly cast as Leo Tolstoy's Natasha in War and Peace, a role that went to Hepburn in King Vidor's 1956 film.

Relatively few Tatiana Samoilova movies

Although she remained hugely popular in the Soviet Union, Tatiana Samoilova never became an international star. Following The Cranes Are Flying, she was cast in only a handful of movies, the most important of which were Kalatozov's less widely seen 1959 follow-up to his Cannes hit, Letter Never Sent / The Unmailed Letter / Neotpravlennoye pismo, an adventure drama set in a central Siberian forest; Giuseppe De Santis' 1964 war drama Attack and Retreat / Italiani brava gente, starring Arthur Kennedy, and revolving around the disastrous Italian military forays onto Soviet soil during World War II; and the title role in Aleksandr Zarkhi's 1967 film version Anna Karenina, as the unfaithful wife previously played by the Swede Greta Garbo and the British Vivien Leigh. Curiously, one of Samoilova's co-stars in Anna Karenina was former husband Vasily Lanovoy, as Count Vronsky. (Samoilova was married four times; her last husband was author and sometime screenwriter Sol Shulman.)

Following Anna Karenina, Tatiana Samoilova would be seen in only eight more movies. Her last film appearance was in a supporting role in Igor Voloshin's 2008 romantic drama Nirvana, starring Olga Sutulova.

Tatiana Samoilova: People's Artist of Russia

In 1993, Tatiana Samoilova was named People's Artist of Russia (aka National Artist of Russia), which, according to the Moscow Times, is "one of the state's highest honors." Fourteen years later, she was a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at the Moscow Film Festival. In honor of her 80th birthday, on May 4 Samoilova was honored with programs and retrospectives on Russian television.

According to Sergey Lazoruk, secretary of the Union of Cinematographers of Russia, Tatiana Samoilova's funeral service will be held at the Cinema House on Wednesday, May 7. And as per the publication Evening Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin "expressed his condolences" to Samoilova's family.

* In 1946, Fridrikh Ermler's The Turning Point was one of eleven movies — among them Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City; Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend; and David Lean's Brief Encounter — to win Cannes' Grand Prix du Festival International du Film in various film categories.

Tatiana Samoilova The Cranes Are Flying image: The Criterion Collection.

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