Monday, 18 April 2016

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov sends new film to Cannes

Director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is also artistic director of the Gogol-Center Theater in Moscow, will enter the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival (May 11-22) with his film(M)Uchenik ("Apprentice") .

(М)ученик (2016)

The film takes place in a modern-day Russian city and tells of the difficulties experienced by a schoolboy called Benjamin (played by Pyotr Skvortsov) and his relationship with his teachers, peers and single mother.

It could be seen as a film version of the play of the same name staged at the Gogol-Center Theater, which premiered in early 2015. The play and the film are based on a play by German playwright Marius Von Mayenburg.

“Marius and I met long before the opening of the play Apprentice at the Berlin theater Schaubühne in 2012,” Serebrennikov told RBTH.

“Later on we met again and I asked him to make a Russian version (of the play), moving the action to Russia, to which he kindly agreed.”

According to the director, the success of the stage version in the Gogol-Center Theater inspired him to make a film version. The filming took place in August 2015 in Kaliningrad (the Russian Baltic Sea exclave bordering Poland). 

 “It was an absolutely amazing time! Everything worked perfectly,” said Serebrennikov. The film stars Yulia Aug and Viktoria Isakova as well as actors from the Gogol-Center Theater. 

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Iurii Grymov: The Mastermind - Коллекционер (2001)

Director: Iurii Grymov
Cast Aleksei Petrenko, Evgenii Tsyganov, Karen Badalov, Andrei Prikhod'ko, Ekaterina Volkova, Irina Mazurkevich

 Iurii Grymov has been known to television audiences across Russia as the director of commercials and music videos—genres in which has developed a recognizable style and which have promoted him to media stardom. That this promotion has been consistently accompanied by condescension and sneers from traditional intellectual and artistic circles is perhaps part of the reason for Grymov's ventures into art-house theater and film production. The Mastermind comes after the short film Masculine Candor (1996) and the film adaptation of Turgenev's classic Mu-Mu (1998). Based on Levan Varazi's novella and drawing inspiration from the cerebral cinematic styles of Tarkovskii and Buñuel, the film does not hide its claims to conceptual and visual impact. In the director's own foreboding words: "On the screen you will see your own dreams shown so sincerely that you will want to strangle the person sitting next to you for having spied on them."

The action in the film takes place in the house of an eccentric collector (played by Aleksei Petrenko)—a veritable Noah's Ark, filled with the most diverse objects from the worlds of nature and human culture. Three male and three female characters find themselves there with the apparent purpose of helping the collector organize his belongings. The narrative structure of the film proceeds conceptually from this process of organization and categorization, as each narrative segment is framed with reference to a specific part of the collection. In the collector's enigmatically prophetic words, we are given to understand that the characters' task is double: as they sort out his collection, they are also "sorting out" their own lives, relationships, identities, and beliefs. Their aimless meandering through the maze of rooms and objects, interspersed with hallucinatory visions, erratic exchanges, and equally erratic actions, is meant to allegorize a search for meaning and purpose. The collection itself—arguably, the main "hero" in Grymov's film—confronts the viewer with a number of possible symbolic readings: an allegory for the seeming randomness of life? a diabolic trap for "lost souls"? another recasting of the post-modern condition? a symbolic garbage dump on the outskirts of an exhausted human civilization?

The bewildering assembly of animate and inanimate things accounts for much of the visual appeal of The Mastermind. It allows Grymov to construct abstract spaces and set up striking visual arrangements (for example, the first part of the love scene between Petr and Masha). Yet much of this appeal is undermined by the film's stubborn tendency to resolve (and dissolve) every visual composition into a semantic scheme. The viewer is constantly oppressed by the suspicion that every object or situation presented to him/her encodes a cryptic revelation. The fact that the collector's house and the movie screen are teeming with living beings and material objects (from fish and porcupines to industrial machines, from classical paintings to dildos) makes only too palpable the atmosphere of rarified abstraction. All the stuff that Grymov "collects" and arranges for us renders the air of pretentious conceptualism and symbolic profundity that much more... stuffy. Contributing to the effect is the make-up of Grymov's characters: without ever coming to life, they drift through the narrative as schematic bundles of twisted emotion and bungled philosophy. Nowhere is this make-up more exposed than in the figure of the collector: a strange amalgam of Mephistophelian and evangelical features, glued together by enigmatic behavior, portentous sermonizing, and tantalizingly pregnant equivocations.

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Saturday, 9 April 2016

Alexander Nezlobin: The groom - Жених (2016)

Director: Alexander Nezlobin
Cact: Svetlana Martsinkevich,Philippe Reinhardt

Helmut (Philippe Reinhardt) arrives in Russia to make an offer Russian beauty Alena (Svetlana Martsinkevich) , with which he met in Berlin. The happy couple went to the village to meet the relatives of the bride.

However, there also arrives and the ex-husband of Alena Tolya (Sergei Svetlakov) who suddenly decided to return his wife.


Larisa Sadilova: Needing a Nanny - Требуется няня (2005)

Director: Larisa Sadilova
Cast: Marina Zubanova, Aleksei Makarov, Viktoriia Isakova, Ira Shipova, Raisa Riazanova, Valerii Barinov

On its surface, Larisa Sadilova's third feature film since her acclaimed 1998 debut, Happy Birthday!, is only peripherally about race and ethnicity: a woman, Galia, arrives from rural northern Russia and is hired as a nanny for the daughter of a well-to-do (and honest) family, also Russian. The family does employs a group of Uzbek builders, who are living on their plot of land while doing renovations, but for the first quarter of the film or so they are indeed a peripheral presence, as Sadilova focuses on the relat ionship between Galia, the child, and the parents.

After overhearing the couple making disparaging remarks about her appearance, the nanny begins to spiral inexorably towards more and more treacherous acts, including turning the girl into a death-obsessed bully, plotting to sabotage her employers' marriage, and extorting money. What at first seems like an increasingly out-of-control vendetta based on class antagonism, however, soon encompasses every character in the film, including the Uzbeks, who in fact suffer the most permanent damage at the hands of Galia as she transforms into a monster (as cinematic nannies are not unknown to do).

An intriguing combination of contemporary social observation and fine psychological nuance, Larisa Sadilova's new film "Needing a Nanny" may look modest enough -- its cast is small and the locations simple -- but stays in the memory.

Respected as an emerging director, Sadilova in her latest work captures something of the world of her 2003 film, "With Love, Lilya," the story of a broiler factory worker's search for love. Experimenting with a more European style of naturalism, a form little explored by Russian directors in the last decade, that film won more acclaim abroad than at home, picking up a prestigious Tiger Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Actress Marina Zubanova, who played the heroine of "With Love, Lilya," returns in Sadilova's new film as Galina, the nanny of its title. She is hired by a prosperous couple, businessman Andrei (Alexei Makarov) and his manager wife Vera (Viktoria Isakova), to look after their 4-year-old daughter Alya (Irina Shipova) as Vera prepares to return to work.

Most of the action takes place in and around the couple's country house, whose final construction is being completed by a gang of Uzbek workers. Sadilova's own script catches subtle details of the almost unspoken class system typically found in Russia over the last decade. Andrei and Vera may be successful and able to afford a new house and a housekeeper, but their interaction with others, such as their parents, whose much more modest lives have changed little over the years, anchors them in a convincing background.

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Friday, 8 April 2016

Aleksandr Zarkhi and Iosif Kheifits: My Motherland - Моя Родина (1933)

Directors: Aleksandr Zarkhi and Iosif Kheifits
Cast: Bari Khaidarov, Aleksandr Melnikov, Ianina Zheimo, Gennadii Michurin, Konstantin Nazarenko, Oleg Zhakov, Iui Fa-Shou

My Motherland is the first film in Soviet cinema history to be banned personally by Stalin. After a private screening, the Great Leader reportedly uttered: "This film was not made by Soviet people." On 3 April 1933, Pravda included in its "khronika" section the brief official announcement: "The screening of the picture My Motherland is forbidden in all of the USSR as harmful."

Моя Родина (1933)

One review, attacking the film's use of caricature, reveals in greater detail why the film was deemed to be inappropriate for Soviet people. Within the genre defined by Zarkhi and Kheifits as "historical realism," caricature was too low-brow for the more serious matter at hand: to portray properly and realistically on screen an important moment of the Soviet past. Chinese and Red Army soldiers alike are depicted as ridiculous: they maintain poor hygiene, their clothes are ill-fitting, and they speak and behave without a sense of political consciousness. In a Soviet rising-to-consciousness narrative set during the Soviet campaign in Manchuria, it is problematic for the imperial center to be shown as achieving consciousness simultaneously with the "uncivilized" Chinese ragamuffins it seeks to colonize. To add insult to injury, the film's opening credits make a dedication to the 15th anniversary of the Peasant-Worker Red Army.

Apart from meddling with the order of imperial relationships and destabilizing the strong Soviet center, another major—then unspoken—element would have made the film unpalatable to Stalin and the film's lesser critics. My Motherland is rife with eroticism. The first Russian-speaking characters to appear on screen are prostitutes and expatriates. At one point early in the film, the Chinese hero Van the Tramp returns from work late at night. The only other person awake is a Russian prostitute. Van lies in bed watching her as she stands scantily clad and eats a piece of fruit. Then, in a surprising reversal, the woman suddenly tosses Van the fruit and buttons her blouse. Still prostrate, Van now takes a bite of the fruit, and becomes the object of the erotic gaze. Van's character remains eroticized and becomes increasingly feminized throughout the film.

Though Van is recruited to serve in the army, he is an atypical soldier and far from a masculine ideal. He is physically slight and afraid of battle. He often wears hats that appear like a long mane of hair. In one scene, he primps in front of a mirror trying on distinctly feminine objects as accessories, before engaging in a wild, dance-like spectacle before the camera. Van literally becomes Edward Said's "Other," the exotic "Oriental," feminized and performing on a stage for a Soviet audience.

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Aleksandr Faintsimmer: The Czar Wants to Sleep - Поручик Киже (1934)

Поручик Киже (1934)

Director: Aleksandr Faintsimmer
Writer: Yuri Tynyanov
Cast: Mikhail Yanshin, Boris Gorin-Goryainov, Nina Shaternikova

Михаил Яншин

If the shade of Paul I, Czar of all the Russias, could watch "The Czar Wants to Sleep," the latest Soviet importation at the Cameo Theatre, it certainly would admit that M. Yanshin of the Moscow Art Theatre has treated the half-mad Emperor much more kindly than did Emil Jannings, the German actor, in "Patriots" some years ago.

Нина Шатерникова

This mildly amusing satire on czarism and all its works is based on the traditional incident of a non-existent Lieutenant Kidzhe, blamed by an aide-de-camp (E. Garin) for a sneeze that broke His Majesty's uneasy slumber. The film story goes that Lieutenant Kidzhe first is ordered to receive 100 lashes and be exiled to Siberia, but when the Czar's favorite (M. Shaternikova) explains that he really is a most faithful officer and cried out because pinched by his sweetheart (S. Magaril), Paul decrees that he be brought back and made a colonel. He is rapidly promoted to a major generalship and even married off to his appetizing sweetheart, but unfortunately dies in the hospital just before he is due to present himself before his gracious imperial master. Whereupon the aide-de-camp succeeds to the major generalship and the "widow," and the Czar mourns aloud over the loss of "my best officer," his sadness intensified by the "discovery" that Kidzhe squandered royal funds just before his demise.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Dmitriy Dyachenko: What Men Talk About - О чем говорят мужчины (2010)

О чём говорят мужчины (2010)

Director: Dmitriy Dyachenko
Cast: Leonid Barats, Aleksandr Demidov, Kamil Larin

Judging from the raving Russian internet forums, reviews, and box office results, Dmitrii D’iachenko’s recent comedy What Men Talk About appears to have gained the love and following of wide audiences. Worn out from primitive slapstick comedies, compulsory nudity, and smutty “below-the-belt” jokes, contemporary Russian moviegoers readily appreciated the film’s gentle quality humor, reminiscent of the extraordinarily popular comedies of El’dar Riazanov from the Soviet era and free from hackneyed clichés populating the comedy genre nowadays.

Геннадий Скарга

D’iachenko is not new to entertainment, and since the mid-1990s has been demonstrating his skill for combining commercial viability with artistic creativity. He is mostly known for his work on television and in theater, having directed five hip film series in various genres, several documentaries (some of which were included in theater plays), more than 40 commercials and 30 corporate events. After his debut with the fairly popular Day of Radio (Den’ Radio, 2008), What Men Talk About [1] became D’iachenko second collaborative feature-film project with “Quartet ‘I’” – a well-known and one of the funniest theater groups in Moscow for the past seventeen years. Its play Conversations of middle-aged men about women, cinema and aluminum forks (Razgovory muzhchin srednego vozrasta o zhenshchinakh, kino i aliuminievykh vilkakh) which, since its premiere in 2008, has enjoyed immense success, is at the heart of D’iachenko’s cinematic adaptation. “Conversations”–marketed by “Quartet ‘I’” as sharing a kindred spirit relationship with the Evgenii Grishkovets theater–has been praised for its “male sincerity” that audiences can identify with, self-reflexive humor, and lack of pathos and edification (Nechaev, 2010). D’iachenko’s decision to adapt an already successful stage play in times of economic decline is a fairly obvious and safe financial bet that paid off: filmed on a budget of $1.9 million, What Men Talk About earned $11.4 million in the box office first week, outshining Nikita Mikhalkov’s infamous $55-million Burnt by the Sun-2.

Нонна Гришаева

Part of the film’s success, in my opinion, is that in translating a dramatic text into film, D’iachenko does not lose the essence of the original play, privileging the aesthetic of theater over the aesthetic of film. He clearly emphasizes the primacy of the dialogue and acting–with the hilarious quad chatting away (mostly about women, in a lighthearted rather than sexist way), joking and imagining fantastic scenarios. The director’s choice fell on bare-bones cinematic language, which he describes as “unusually laconic for contemporary Russian film” (D’iachenko, 2009). Interestingly, the car scenes, which take up half of the film, also worked towards preserving theatrical values and creating favorable, stage-like conditions for the actors. An economical technological solution was found: according to D’iachenko, the technique was borrowed from Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006). In order to shoot inside the car, a robotic digital camera–the first in Russia–was constructed by the camera man and inventor Sergei Astakhov, and operated by Iurii Liubshin. The crew mounted the camera on a rig above the vehicle with the roof taken off. The car did not move, but actually stood on a platform in a tent-like construction, which allowed the use of studio lighting, thus creating a space not much different from the play’s set.

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