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Director and writer Gleb Panfilov adapted Maxim Gorky's play Vassa Zheleznova for this theatrical film that recounts Vassa's iron rule over a dissipated merchant family several years before the 1917 revolution.
When her profligate husband is about to be hauled into court for an act of moral turpitude, Vassa (Inna Churikova) convinces him to commit suicide before he ruins the entire family and their fortune.
After he concedes and dies, Vassa spies on everyone in the household and tries to keep her self-indulgent daughters and a high-society brother from harming the family's interest or holdings.
Then her Jewish daughter-in-law Rachel (Valentina Telichkina) arrives from Switzerland with news that Vassa's son is dying, and she wants to take their own son, now in Vassa's care, back home with her.
The two woman clash in a climactic showdown, and the unexpected result of their altercation sets off a chain of events that presages the grand-scale, 1917 showdown to come. This film won the Gold Medal top prize at the 1983 Moscow Film Festival.