Misogyny doesn't quite describe what's going on in Andrei Tarkovsky's "The Steamroller and the Violin" (IMDb listing) (1960), but it's a word I wouldn't be surprised to see used in connection with the film. Admittedly, women are the source of the problem that arises between seven-year-old Sasha and Sergei, the adult he befriends. So prejudice, maybe. But hatred? Dislike? These are strong words.
Potential trouble is indicated early on, as Sasha waits for a session with his violin instructor. A young girl also awaits her turn, and the two of them flirt shamelessly with one another. The scene accomplishes what those obnoxious black-and-white photographs of children with pastel-tinted highlights strive so hard to achieve: sincerity. These are not children caught at an adult's game. They are children with emotions and desires of their own. When Sasha's turn comes up, he gives the girl an apple. After he disappears into the studio, she promptly sets the fruit aside. But when the camera follows Sasha back out of the studio and through the waiting area, it pans down to a thoroughly gnawed apple core.
Outside of Sasha's building is where he first meets Sergei, who operates a steamroller in an adjacent lot. Sergei becomes an instant hero when he rescues Sasha from the taunts of the neighborhood boys, for whom the term "musician" is a derisive projectile. The boys are further chagrinned when Sergei lets Sasha operate the intimidating steamroller. When Sasha leaves his violin and sheet music on the back of the machine to join his new friend for lunch, we feel certain that thievery or vandalism can't be far off. The hooligans do in fact discover the abandoned instrument, but in one of the film's tender brushstrokes, they are so impressed by the violin's beauty and delicacy when the case is opened that they simply close it back up and leave the instrument alone.
Through all of this there is a woman steamroller operator who tries unsuccessfully to claim Sergei's attention by joking with him while they work. Later, when Sasha prepares to play his violin for Sergei, the two of them are temporarily interrupted by the sound of a pebble tossed into a nearby puddle by the young woman, who paces bashfully in the distance. They ignore her, and Sasha plays for his friend.
As Sergei and Sasha converse, it comes out that it's the steamroller operator's last day on the job outside of Sasha's building. The news doesn't quite spell the end of their friendship though. They agree to meet that evening to see a film together. But Sasha's mother is less than thrilled by the account of his mysterious new friend, and she reminds her son of a previous commitment he has made. He might have invited the man to their rooms, she assures the boy, but meeting for a movie is definitely out of the question. Sasha grows worried at the thought of Sergei waiting for him in vain. He even writes a note of apology on a sheet of music paper, folds it into an airplane and launches it from his bedroom window toward Sergei, who has come to check on the boy's whereabouts. But the paper airplane falls short of its destination as Sergei makes his way back to the theater. Sasha watches him leave but is apparently afraid to rouse his mother's anger by calling out to him. At the theater, Sergei runs into the young woman again. She offers to see the film with him, and after a wistful look in the direction of the boy's lodgings, he succumbs.
It's a somber ending to a charming film, and a plausible reading might contend that something meaningful between Sasha and Sergei has been averted by the two women of the film. But on a certain level, it's appropriate that the boy and the man should separate. Each has the potential to hold the other back, after all. Sasha's dependence on a male figure, which seems to be lacking in his home life, would surely become a drain on Sergei over time. And Sergei's childlike simplicity would likely not endure a lengthy companionship with the precocious boy. The bright side to the reality of their situation is hinted at earlier in the film when Sasha pauses outside a shop window and peers at his multiplied reflection in the shards of mirrored glass that make up the display. He appears to be gazing into the alternate futures that lie before him with all their shimmering enticements.
Filmfodder Grade: A-