Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Alexander Kott: Test - Испытание (2014)

Испытание (2014)

Director: Alexander Kott
Cast: Elena An, Danila Rassomakhin, Karim Pakachakov, Narinman Bekbulatov-Areshev

Awards :

Best music Aleksey AIGY , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Moscow (Russia), 2015 Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Moscow (Russia), 2015 First prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Best Cinematography Levan KAPANADZE , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Diploma Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 Special Prize Middle East International Film Festival : MEIFF, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), 2014 Special mention Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2014 First prize International Human Rights Film Festival, Moscow (Russia), 2014

Testing (2014)

Young hearts go nuclear in Alexander Kott's mannered but quietly affecting Test (Ispytanie), set in an utterly remote corner of the USSR at the dawn of the H-bomb age. Elevated by a luminous performance from newcomer Elena An and Levan Kapanadze's crisply poetic cinematography, this wordless, subtle fable of teenage passions has made an explosive start to its festival career and appeals as an accessibly exotic Russian export. Adventurous distributors in receptive territories will be keen to check it out, although the lack of dialogue may be as much of a hindrance as a help.

Picking up the top prize when premiering at Sochi's Kinotavr in June, the functionally-titled Test was named Best International Feature at Turkey's Golden Orange festival in Antalya four months later. Writer-director Kott, with more than half a dozen features under his belt since debuting in 2001, previously best known for wartime epic Fortress of War (2010), a.k.a. The Brest Fortress, set during the start of the Nazis' Operation Barbarossa in 1941.

Testing (2014)

Test takes place at the other end of the same decade, and for the overwhelming majority of its running-time presents a radically more serene and idyllic vision of the Soviet Union. Unspecified in the movie itself, the geographical setting can be deduced as somewhere near Semey in modern-day Kazakhstan, then known as Semipalatinsk — notorious as the site of the USSR's first nuclear test, in August 1949.

This backwater was selected by Stalin's henchman Beria as it was supposedly "uninhabited" — which would be news to farmer Tolgat (Karim Pakachakov) and his teenage daughter Dina (Elena An), who tend their flock in a windblown corner of the pan-flat steppe. Their harmonious relationship to nature and the film's bold visual approach are neatly encapsulated by the first post-credits sequence, in which Tolgat naps on the back of his flat-bed truck using a similarly somnolent sheep as a pillow, the scene initially presented from a distant angle, high above the dozing duo. Kott, his cinematographer Kapanadze and sound-designer Filipp Lamshin (whose contributions are especially critical given the absence of speech) instantly take us into the inner world of the observant, artistically-inclined Dina, whose delicate leaf-collages hint at a desire to explore horizons far beyond home. Her two smitten, spirited suitors represent forking paths in the map of destiny: she's semi-betrothed to local lad Kaisyn (Narinman Bekbulatov-Areshev), until fate happens to bring pop-eyed Max (Danila Rassomakhin), whose Caucasian blondness indicates he's not from these peri-Asian parts, into the picture.

Daniel Rassomahin

Test is essentially a simple tale, imaginatively told, with grace-notes of genuine transcendence and beauty studded throughout its brisk running-time. Kapanadze makes playful use of widescreen aspect-ratio, often framing his compositions with a pictorial precision that would have Wes Anderson sighing in appreciation. At times the arresting simplicity of the visuals seem to owe more to animation than conventional live-action cinema — the gymnastically hyperactive, grinning Max is especially cartoonish, in contrast to the more rounded presences of Dina and Tolgat, whose warm father-daughter bonds are amply conveyed without benefit of dialogue. Amid these gusty climes, perhaps even language has been blown away.

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Pavel Chukhrai to Film War Melodrama in Lithuania

Renowned Russian film director Pavel Chukhrai is shooting the war film The Stranger in Lithuania.

The film tells a love story unfolding in wartime. The leads are played by Rinal Mukhametov and Julia Peresild. Julia Peresild starred in the film Battle for Sevastopol, which has recently won a prize at the Beijing Film Festival. One of the key roles is performed by the People's Artist of Russia Sergey Garmash. Lithuanian and Italian actors are also involved in the film project.

The film events are set in Lithuania of the 1940s. Sabina Yeremeyeva, the producer of The Stranger pointed out: “The project is unique for the fact that it tackles upon psychological and love aspects known to practically every adult. All this is surrounded with evil and war, and against all the odds the main characters’ feelings overcome the evil”.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Sergey Mokritskiy: The Battle for Sevastopol - Битва за Севастополь (2015)

Battle for Sevastopol (2015)

Director: Sergey Mokritskiy
Cast: Yuliya Peresild, Evgeniy Tsyganov, Joan Blackham

'Battle for Sevastopol'

Story of a woman who changed the course of history  Falling in love with men who perished in devastating enemy fire, befriending Eleanor Roosevelt, delivering a landmark speech at a conference that influenced the outcome of World War II, constantly fighting in order to live and to love can a fragile woman handle all this ? This is the true story of Ludmila Pavlichenko, a legendary Soviet woman sniper. Soldiers went into combat carrying her name. Enemies hunted her. She saw death and suffering on the battlefield, but her hardest test was love, which war could take away from her

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Andrei Konchalovsky: The Postman's White Nights - Белые ночи почтальона Алексея Тряпицына (2014)

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Cast: Aleksey Tryapitsyn, Irina Ermolova, Timur Bondarenko

An isolated village in Russia’s far north is the setting for Andrei Konchalovsky’s “The Postman’s White Nights,” a fiction feature informed by reality with a cast largely composed of non-professional locals acting out their daily lives. The story, about a charismatic postman who is the locals’ sole connection to the outside world, allows Konchalovsky to bring in a host of themes, from the sublime in nature to post-communist nostalgia and vodka, always vodka. Some stunning shots and a likable protag can’t cover up the story’s shallowness, which means international exposure will rely on fests and a limited Euro release.

Rural Russian atmosphere seems to be all the rage after Aleksey Fedorchenko’s “Silent Souls” and the like, though Konchalovsky is hardly a stranger to the genre, and “Postman” has much in common with the vet helmer’s 1994 Cannes title, “Assia and the Hen With the Golden Eggs,” in that both are set in villages, using mostly non-actors taken from the locale. Piqued by the idea of a country mailman’s vital role as lifeline to inaccessible communities, the director searched for the right representative and found it in Aleksey Tryapitsyn, serving a remote area on the shores of Lake Kenozero, south of Arkhangelsk.

The pressbook should probably drop Konchalovsky’s quote, “This film is my depiction of my life amidst the very simple Russian people,” reeking of either condescension or irony (it’s difficult to tell, though likely the former). “Postman” doesn’t ridicule the locals, but it does show them as simple folk with basic needs (like vodka); side characters, especially when seen in professional capacities as store clerk or post office manager, convey more interest than most of the main players.

Lyokha (Tryapitsyn) is a local, a recovering alcoholic on the wagon for the last two years, who delivers the mail via motorboat. He also brings people their pension money and other goods, making him a crucial link to the outside world for villagers living in hard-to-reach areas without roads. Ever the joker, Lyokha enjoys flirtations, especially with Irina (Irina Ermolova, one of the few professional actors), a transplant in these parts with her young son Timur, aka Timka (Timur Bondarenko, another pro and extremely good).

The film’s best interactions are with these three, especially a lovely scene in which Lyokha takes Timka out on a boat and frightens the boy with talk of the local witch, the Kikimora. A crisis comes when Lyokha’s motor is stolen, making it impossible for him to do his job. At the city post office hq, he’s told it will take possibly months to get him a new one via official channels, which isn’t an option, yet he can’t afford to buy one himself. Making things worse, Irina, the unrequited object of his affections, is moving away.

Konchalovsky throws in a scene in the nearby Plesetsk Cosmodrome, just before a space rocket launch, as a way of reminding auds that the modern world exists side-by-side with wooden house communities living much as they did for the past hundred years. The idea may work for some viewers, yet it’s a rather facile acknowledgment, and notwithstanding a gag scene towards the end that draws a laugh, the rocket scenes feel gratuitous.

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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Natalia Meschaninova: The Hope Factory - Комбинат «Надежда» (2014)

Фильмы онлайн: страна - ссср, россия. . -

Director: Natalia Meshchaninova
Cast: Dar’ia Savel’eva, Polina Shanina, Maksim Stoianov, Daniil Steklov

The irony at the beginning of Natalia Meshchaninova’s debut film is hard to miss. Once the title Hope Factory has faded, we see a young man posing in front of a smart phone and declaring his love for his native Norilsk while being showered by water spurting from a rusty, leaking pipe. A few moments later, we are at a vodka-drenched open-air party of local youths drinking to the “northern character,” and in particular, to the health of the Norilchane. Ominously, the sun is out, but already setting; in the background, we see smoking chimneys against a desolate industrial landscape. Welcome to Norilsk, one of the most polluted and isolated cities in northern Siberia built on the bones of GULAG prisoners in the 1940s and 1950s and still a major pillar of Russia’s metallurgical and mining industry. As the opening scenes suggest, the city has little to offer in terms of hope except for the local metallurgical plant and its fringe benefits.

kombinat nadezhda

For Sveta, a seventeen-year-old student nurse at the factory’s health department, staying in “fucking Norilsk” (bliadskii Norilsk) is not an option. She is determined to begin her adult life on the “mainland” (a local metaphor for the urban world beyond Norilsk), even if her ambitions don’t go beyond being reunited with her boyfriend Max, who is seemingly enjoying the good life in some unspecified city in the south. Sveta’s plans of leaving Norilsk arouse sarcasm in her bitchy boss at the factory and disbelief at home. Her parents have even bought her a flat for her upcoming birthday, assuming that she would spend “her whole life” in Norilsk. When she insists on joining Max and moving to the mainland, her father makes an argument that Sveta encounters more than once in the course of the film: “Who needs you there? Life is completely different on the mainland.”

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kombinat nadezhda

Establishing the film’s narrative about teenagers’ personal experiences and the lives of her friends and crew, Nataliia Meshchaninova constructs a story about a teenage girl who desperately wants to leave N* (Norilsk), the northern city where she was born, grew up, and in which her family and friends live. The film is full of people who are constantly talking about leaving for other cities: Temriuk, Belgorod, Ekaterinburg, Omsk, Sankt-Petersburg, Moscow, and Voronezh. They dream of living in the mainland (“materik”). Their desire establishes a new imaginary land that exists only in the minds of people who live and work in the new imperial periphery: cities built on permafrost to excavate and to process natural resources.

Combine the "Hope" (2014)

In this film, Norilsk represents all cities that aim at supplying the post-communist imperial center with money. The huge industrial corporations rooted in Moscow organize the city N* people’s lives to attach them to the plant with good welfare, medical help, and high salaries. This attentive care comes with strings attached: common ecological disasters that damage lives, arduous working conditions at the plant, and an almost eternal winter that lasts more than nine months, three fourths of the year. Working people pay a price for comfortable lives. In every Russian city N*, the endless imperial story is the same: it is simply repeated with new geographical nuances of longitude and latitude. The film director keeps this centripetal motif straight: the periphery exists to supply the metropole. This motif is underlined by the omnipresence of the factory in the film: it appears in the city views and landscapes, and in the citizens’ minds, as the plant determines their future. The film does not show a panoramic view of this industrial monster that breathes the lives of its workers. Almost every shot, however, is filled with background images or signs of the plant: whether it is a city view or natural landscapes. The only natural view that inspires the film’s main characters and represents an inspirational place is the taiga and the slough landscape without an industrial background. The horizon is not sunny or bright: it is grey with a bit of sunshine, but the main point is that it is clear of the smoking pipes that constantly remind people about the purpose of the city’s existence: to serve this plant.

still1 The Hope Factory

Though even with the omnipresent industrial and sovereign business plant, the people of the city N* live their lives fully and happily. The comfort that people receive with down payments from the industrial shadow, allows them to fulfill their dreams: to become a singer in a local rock-band, to work as a taxi driver for tourists, or as an illusionist in a restaurant, to cook exotic dishes for family in their spare time. These people are happy: they have both comfort and self-realization, and their future is clearly defined; they do not need to look for a job or money. They no longer remember the price they paid for this: their health, quality of life, and years of their lives.

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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Alexey German Jr.: Under electric clouds - Под электрическими облаками (2013)

Под электрическими облаками (2015)

Director / Screenwriter: Alexey German Jr
Cast: Angela Karpova, Viktoriya Nesterenko, Tatiana Murlakova, Anna Sagalovich

Illumination proves frustratingly elusive in Alexey German Jr’s Under Electric Clouds (Pod electricheskimi oblakami), an eight-part vision of near-future Russia which – as usual with this writer-director - places impressive behind-the-scenes craft at the service of a flashy but undernourished screenplay. Arriving in the wake of Andrey Zvagintsev’s controversy-stirring, Putin-baiting Leviathan - both films are partly funded by Russia's Ministry of Culture - it has topicality and ambition on its side but is too bleakly oblique to make much stir beyond the festival circuits.

Под электрическими облаками (2015)

The prologue and seven chapters (varying in length from seven to 35 minutes) are all in some way connected with an unfinished skyscraper whose skeletal form – at once bulbous and ethereal – is frequently visible on the horizon. The oligarch who paid for the edifice has recently died, causing what may well be a permanent halt in its construction. His two twentysomething children, Sasha (Viktoria Korotkova) and Danya (Viktor Bugakov), fly in from abroad; the project’s architect Peter (Louis Franck) ponders the meaning of his work and his existence; a Kyrgyz drifter, Karim (Karim Pakachakov) wanders around clutching a defective boom-box; impoverished intellectual Nikolay (Merab Ninidze) endures humiliating employment as a liveried attendant at a country-mansion museum.

Each of the chapters focuses on a different character or set of characters, but the mode remains the same: resigned, downbeat torpor, with much talk of the planet having lost its way (“something’s wrong all over the world”), how some catastrophic war is probably just around the corner, perhaps prelude for an even greater cataclysm (“I had a dream about the end of the world, and now I’m sad.”)

Под электрическими облаками (2015)

German Jr. sets his film in 2017, exactly 100 years after the Russian Revolution, but the contrast between these folks’ nihilistic inertia and the radical, questioning energy of their forebears could hardly be more stark. A damaged statue of Lenin appears from time to time, supplying a reliable dose of cheap historical irony. Everyone is content to bewail their lot - but no-one seems willing or able to analyze its causes, point fingers of blame (impossible to tell whether this is an alternative, Putin-less reality or not), or start finding a way out of this dismal spiritual-psychological swamp. It's surely no coincidence that hardly anyone here seems to do anything resembling work – not even the squat domestic robot which haltingly wheels itself around Sasha and Danya’s flat.

This amusingly useless droid provides rare flashes of humor in what’s generally a dour slog of a movie – one which, in its final couple of chapters, does at least indulge in a kind of self-mocking self-deconstruction as Peter dismisses his output as “incredibly trendy but utterly meaningless”. “If the artist wants to address the complexity of the world,” we are informed, “he needs some kind of intellectual context.” Such contexts are largely lacking here, in a picture which is content to linger on beautifully composed, sparsely populated tableaux, sprinkled with gnomic, random-sounding verbiage ("I've been promised polyglot penguins!")

German Jr.’s late father Alexey German (1938-2013) - whose magnificent, semi-posthumous final project Hard To Be A God (2013) his son helped complete - long specialized in cacophonously maximalist films that filled the frame with crazed, gabbling characters, depicting worlds gone severely and overwhelmingly out of joint. If the dad was a Brueghel or a Bosch, the son is much more of a Friedrich or de Chirico, stranding his creations in windblown space and punishingly becalmed solitude.

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Under Electric Clouds wins Berlinale award: an interview with director Alexei German Jr

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Nikita Mikhalkov: Sunstroke - Солнечный удар (2013)

Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Cast: Mārtiņš Kalita, Viktoria Solov’eva, Miloš Biković, Anastasia Imamova, Avangard Leont’ev, Sergei Karpov, Aleksandr Adabash’ian, Kirill Boltaev, Aleksandr Michkov, Aleksei Diakin, Vitalii Kishchenko

Солнечный удар (2014)

The Russian intelligentsia today loves to hate Nikita Mikhalkov. It is understandable: not only does he get the biggest, juiciest, state-sponsored budgets for his films, but he is too much of a power-broker and a media animal, the “mustachioed bumblebee” with his own idiosyncratic, yet thoroughly conservative TV show in which he seeks to impress his views on the audiences through patriotic (i.e., pro-Putin) sermons, some of which consist entirely of him reading long articles and blog posts that all Internet users interested in the subject had read months before. He calls himself a besogon, which he thinks means “exorcist” or “witch-hunter” but in fact is a slang term for “liar” or “blabbermouth.” That he continues to soldier on regardless is entirely up to him, of course. Knowing Mikhalkov’s political views is helpful for the understanding of his personality, but artists should be judged on the merits of their art. That’s why we are interested in them in the first place. In the case of Mikhalkov, however, art and politics are very hard to tell apart, and his new film is no exception. Warning: spoilers galore.

Виктория Соловьёва (II)

It should be stated up front that whether you love or abhor Mikhalkov’s recent films, they are never boring. Even the much-maligned sequels to Burnt by the Sun: Exodus (Predstoianie, 2010) and Citadel (Tsitadel’, 2011) were consistently engaging, with never a dull moment. What seems wrong is the director’s turn from chamber dramas at which he excelled to the epic mode of film narration which he just cannot handle. In early Mikhalkov, a small vignette could be more telling than a long story. There is a scene in Five Evenings (Piat’ vecherov, 1979), probably his best film, that has a naval officer in a 1958 Moscow restaurant just standing up and smoking by the window. Not a word is said, but one senses drama behind this character. That was intriguing, and imparted depth to a simple story. That was what made Mikhalkov great—an ability to ignite the imagination at a single glance, leaving the viewers hungering for more.

Мартиньш Калита

Unfortunately, the latter-day Mikhalkov is exactly the opposite. He still knows how to intrigue the viewer, but he spells out too much, and his films are now bloated where they once were well trimmed and economical. There is no better example than Sunstroke. The eponymous short story by Ivan Bunin, written in emigration in 1925, takes up all of four pages; the film lasts three hours, and an even longer TV serialization is in the works. Bunin’s story is light and poetic, the film plodding and pompous. Mikhalkov was not content to stay within the bounds of Bunin’s summertime romance, which may have made it into a much more compelling (if modest) film. He went further, imagining the hero, an amorous lieutenant in 1907, thirteen years later, caught up in the murderous Red campaign in the Crimea in November 1920. Bunin’s diary, Cursed Days, which Mikhalkov cites as the other source for his film, has little or nothing to do with it; in subject and spirit it is closer to Ivan Shmelev’s Sun of the Dead. The “sun” metaphor seems to never leave Mikhalkov. The entire film is constructed as a series of flashbacks (or flash-forwards, if you wish) between the golden sunset of Russia (1907) and its harshest darkness (1920). Instead of jumping to and from, let us look at these two worlds in sequence.

Солнечный удар (2014)

In 1907, the young lieutenant (Mārtiņš Kalita) sails down the Volga on a new steamship full of bells and whistles—the sequence was filmed in Switzerland because presumably there are no such ships left in Russia—when he is struck by the vision of a beautiful young lady (Viktoriia Solov’eva). He is engaged and she is married, with children, but that doesn’t stop him from wooing her. It’s a sunstroke. The affair falls into several setpieces, including the pursuit of a blue scarf (a reference to a popular pre-revolutionary song and Mikhalkov’s own A Slave of Love [Raba liubvi], 1975), some hocus-pocus with the lieutenant’s broken and replaced watch, his erroneous disembarkation and triumphal return aboard, and, finally, the consummation of love in a small-town hotel room after the two leave the ship together. Their love-making is accompanied by the heated movement of the ship’s pistons and cylinders—any reviewer who has not commented on this Freudian metaphor must be really lazy. In the morning, the Beautiful Stranger—the hero never learns her name—leaves him and the town, with only a brief note and a candy for our hero to remember her by. On a languorous summer day the lieutenant sets out on a quest. This is perhaps the best section of the film, and the closest Nikita Mikhalkov has ever come to magical realism, Russian style. En route, the lieutenant meets and befriends a 12-year-old altar boy who lectures him on the local wonders and asks questions about the mysteries of evolution, while the hero is distracted by his own mystery. After one more improbable adventure including—pay attention!—submersion into water as the boy looks on, he too leaves town, forgetting his new watch. Oh, that watch again. How utterly symbolic is that—historical time is out of joint.

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