Thursday, 25 September 2014

Alexey Uchitel: Break Loose - Восьмерка (2013)

Восьмёрка (2014)

Director: Alexey Uchitel
Cast: Vilma Kutavichyute , Artur Smolyaninov , Paul Vorozhtsov 

The film tells a story about four friends who return from the army and join OMON. The story starts from the moment when they unexpectedly face some big criminal authority. The situation turns even more complicated when one of the characters falls in love with the criminal’s girlfriend. The story’s author Zakhar Prilepin points out that all the characters have real prototypes, but each of them, as it often happens, is formed of two or three people.

Восьмёрка (2014)

Grungy, witty and savage, the Russian crime thriller “Break Loose” entertains despite its ludicrously repetitive action and cliched story of the impossible love between a special forces cop and a gangster’s moll. Set in the final days of 1999 (and Boris Yeltsin), the film makes meager use of political subtext, but it doesn’t much matter given director Alexey Uchitel’s infectious love of borderline-goofy fight scenes, many of which are brilliantly choreographed. Though commercial prospects outside Russia appear limited, plenty of fests will forge ties with “Break Loose,” Uchitel’s first feature since “The Edge,” Russia’s Oscar entry from 2010.

Восьмёрка (2014)

To the extent that the film is a comedy, its running gag is the insatiable appetite for street violence among four old army buddies who now work for OMON, an elite police squad charged with curbing local protests and breaking up the scuffles of low-level thugs. Not content with the head-bashings they administer in their day jobs, fresh-faced Ger (Alexey Mantsigyn) and his pals — Lykov (Alexander Novyn), Shorokh (Pavel Vorontsov), and Grekh (Artem Bystrov) — favor looking for fights after hours as well. An early scene has the friends pummelling goons in the lobby of a bustling nightclub.

Восьмёрка (2014)

It’s at the club, owned by mob boss Boots (Artur Smolyaninov), where Ger first lays eyes on gorgeous Aglaya (Vilma Kutavichute), who’s dancing onstage. Hardly subtle, Uchitel tracks the camera slowly toward the gape-mouthed Ger to establish that he’s instantly smitten. Learning that his crush is Boots’ main squeeze doesn’t deter Ger in his efforts to bed Aglaya; if anything, it seems to turn him on even more. Climbing up a pole to a third-floor window to peep on Aglaya, Ger eventually succeeds in his lascivious aim, which naturally escalates the war between Boots’ crew and Ger’s.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Anna Melikyan: Star - Звезда (2014)

Звезда (2014)

Director: Anna Melikyan
Writers: Anna Melikyan, Andrey Migachev Cast: Tina Dalakishvili, Severija Janusauskaite, Pavel Tabakov, Andrey Smolyakov, Juozas Budraitis, Alexander Shein, Gosha Kutsenko

Awards : Best directing Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014
Best actress Severija Janushauskaite, Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014

Звезда (2014)

The lives of three people collide and fancifully intertwine, closely linking their fates. A 15-year-old teenager, misunderstood by the world; his worldly and haughty young stepmother who is capable of true feelings and genuine attachment only on the verge of death; and the debuting actress who is naturally untalented, but has a passionate love for life. This is a tragicomedy about the inscrutability of love and destiny, about the vulnerability of our existence.

Yuri Bykov: The Fool - Дурак (2014)

Director: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Sergey Artsybashev, Pyotr Barancheev, Artyom Bystrov

Awards : Best Screenplay Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 
Best actor Artiom BYSTROV , Film Festival Locarno, Locarno (Switzerland), 2014

Extremely bleak and depressing even by Russian standards, the third film of writer-director Yury Bykov, The Fool (Durak), is also his best. An explosive combination of highly personal moral drama and a wider, scathing portrait of a country in which corruption and greed seem to be the only shared values left, this well-oiled narrative machine is further aided by a clever ticking-clock mechanism that actually ratchets up the tension the longer the characters’ vodka-soaked, blame-game speeches are allowed to go on. This Locarno competition title will undoubtedly be Bykov’s biggest hit to date, attracting not only scores of festival invites but also courting interest from boutique art house distributors, possibly on both sides of the Atlantic.

<em>Durak</em> - Yury Bykov

Bykov again wrote, directed and edited the film and also composed the music, though unlike in his second film, the 2013 Cannes Critics’ Week hit The Major, the multihyphenate doesn’t play one of the protagonists. Instead, he has cast Artem Bystrov in the lead, whose Average Joe countenance hides a startling intensity. Probably not coincidentally, Bystrov was first seen in last year’s aggressive male posturing drama Break Loose from esteemed director Alexey Uchitel, who produces here through his company Rock Films.

A Russian plumber, Dima Nikitin (Bystrov), is also a municipal repair-crew chief in an unnamed Russian town that’s not even 40 years old, though some of the city’s housing blocks are already in a grave state of disrepair. A routine burst bathroom pipe in one of the rickety communal housing buildings unearths a much larger problem, as the exterior wall behind the pipe has cracked and started to shift. When Nikitin goes outside to inspect the matter, he realizes the building has fissured from the ground right up to the ninth and last floor.

Though it’s not officially part of his district, Dima’s sense of personal responsibility gets the better of him in the middle of the night and he decides to go and talk to the higher-ups, especially after he calculates how much time is left for a construction of that height before it splits in two and crumbles — which turns out to be less than 24 hours.

The knowledge that the 800 or so inhabitants might go down with the building has Dima racing to the 50th birthday party of Nina Galaganova (Nataliya Surkova), the town’s imperious mayor, to convince her to evacuate the building. He thus bypasses his direct boss, the corrupt inspector of public housing, Federotov (Boris Nevzorov), who only supplied a coat of paint the last time he received funds for a major overhaul, preferring to funnel the money into work on his daughter's personal residence. Nina’s extended, behind-closed-doors meeting with Dima, Federotov and heads of several other departments, including the fire brigade, is the film’s nerve center and it soon becomes clear that the worst fears of Dima’s wife (Darya Moroz) about the city council’s deep-seated dishonesty and corruption are true. The feverish gathering takes place in a meeting room next to the hotel restaurant where Nina’s birthday party is still in full swing, with the thumping music filtering into the room like a severe headache that just won’t go away.

Surkova is fantastic as the orders-barking mayor who realizes that 800 potential deaths would be a disaster — if she’s blamed for it — and who has to also consider the pragmatic difficulties of moving everyone out of the critical damaged building in a city that simply doesn’t have anywhere else to put them.

As the assembled try to pass off culpability and increasingly blatant and aggressive accusations fly left and right, the fact that this city council (and, by extension, Russia’s ruling class) is rotten to the core becomes painstakingly clear, while each second the officials spend in the room adds tension due to the knowledge that hundreds of unsuspecting souls are facing a potentially lethal situation. (Bykov wisely refrains from cutting back to the building during the meeting except for a single inspection visit.)

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Cineuropa: Are you trying to represent a metaphor for Russian society in Durak (The Fool)? 

Yury Bykov: My intention is to show a model of society that is very common in the region in which I was born [Penza, in central Russia]. I grew up in an environment very similar to the one that appears in the movie and so I wanted to create the most accurate portrait possible of what I experienced. I illustrate a wealth of experience that I’ve acquired throughout my life and that I free through this story. But Russia is a very big country and I’m inclined to believe that Durak is not the full picture, even though it is most of it. Rather than denouncing the evident social disparities I sought to show how the conflict of interests portrayed in the movie develops.

In other words the story you want to tell could take place in many other countries... 

It’s a story that I believe could happen in any region of the world in which people experience social tensions, obviously by adapting it to each country’s particular reality. Many places could easily have been the setting for this story. Whether they be developping regions in Latinamerica or Africa and, in another context, in a large part of China and even the US.

You claim that you don’t feel close to modern-day Russian directors but that you do feel close to those of the past. Why? 

Because for me the most important thing is being understood and moving the viewer. Many of the current Russian directors are more focused on creating their own cinematograhpic language, on creating a particular ambiance. For me those things are formalities, elements that more related to technology than to emotions. My ambitions as an artist involve connecting with people. In that sense my references include social cinema of the 70s, Sydney Lumet and his Dog Day Afternoon (1975) or Francis Ford Coppola, and Russian cinema of the same era.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Iraklii Kvirikadze:Rasputin - Распутин (2013)

Распутин (2011)

Directors: Josée Dayan, Irakli Kvirikadze
Writer: Irakli Kvirikadze
Stars: Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Mashkov

Фанни Ардан

Rasputin, it seems, is fated to live forever. The real Grigorii Rasputin, as his assassins discovered, was hard enough to kill. But the so-called Mad Monk has enjoyed a long afterlife on the page, in musical lyrics and onscreen, serving as a malleable symbol for many decades. He has been portrayed as an evil villain, a sympathetic starets, a reincarnated helper to the Nazis (in the comic book and movie, Hellboy), and, of course, as “Russia’s greatest love machine.” The first film version of Rasputin’s life appeared within a year of his death, with silent film star Montagu Love playing him in the September 1917 Rasputin, the Black Monk. Since then, Conrad Veidt, Lionel Barrymore, Christopher Lee, Tom Baker (before his turn as Doctor Who), and Alan Rickman (just to name a handful) have all played the character onscreen. In one sense, therefore, no one should be that surprised that a heavyweight actor such as Gerard Depardieu should take a turn playing Rasputin, even if he is nearly 20 years older than the mystic was at the time of his physical death. While Depardieu sought to make his subject human again, the story of Iraklii Kvirikadze’s Rasputin has more to it than yet another reappearance of the man who cannot truly die.

Распутин (2011)

The movie mostly focuses on the First World War and Rasputin’s assassination. Kvirikadze reworked a poorly-received 2011 French television series directed by Josée Dayan and turned it into a 90-minute feature film for Russian audiences. The director declared that the original version “was like a very fat man who needs to run a marathon […] and needs to lose 40 or 50 kilograms to become lean and energetic” (Kas’ianova 2013). His Rasputin consists of a series of vignettes taken from the French series that reveal the royal family’s reliance on Rasputin’s ability to deal with the tsarevich’s hemophilia and the growing conspiracy to eliminate the so-called holy devil.

Rasputin opens with the 1918 murder of the Romanov family at the hands of Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. One of the murderers strips Empress Alexandra of her jewels and discovers a locket with Rasputin’s picture on it. The film then jumps back to a brief, obligatory scene that explains how Rasputin came to be an intimate of the last tsar and his family, an excuse for the director to include stereotypical shots of Russianness, complete with wintry Siberian landscapes, a troika, and an Orthodox Church. The action then transfers to Petersburg, where Rasputin heals Alexei and others brought to him, dances drunkenly, and, in one scene, lounges in bed with three naked women around him. Just 20 minutes into the film, the war breaks out, an event that guides the plot to its inexorable conclusion: Nicholas II’s larger family, including his cousin, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, warns him about Rasputin’s baleful influence and the rumors that are spreading in the press. Angered by this perceived influence and the threat it represents to Russia’s political system, a group of conspirators plot to get rid of Rasputin. The conspirators are led by Prince Feliks Iusupov, Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, and the monarchist politician Vladimir Purishkevich. The last 20 minutes of the film focus on the murder, which occurs in the basement of Iusupov’s palace. After Iusupov poisons and then shoots Rasputin (which does not kill him), he toasts with Dmitrii “to Russia,” only to be corrected “to Imperial Russia.” The very last scene consists of the plotters throwing Rasputin’s body into the Malaia Nevka River.

Read more in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Russian deal for Cannes winner Leviathan

Russian drama Leviathan has secured distribution in its home country, four months after it won the Best Screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The drama, from director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky, will receive a wide release by A Company on Nov 13, in cooperation with 20th Century Fox Russia.

The film is an interpretation of the biblical story of Job, told in the context of contemporary Russia. It is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.

Leviathan marks from fourth feature from Zvyagintsev following Venice Golden Lion winner The Return (2003); Cannes best actor winner The Banishment (2007); and Elena (2011), which won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Following its world premiere at Cannes in May, Leviathan recently received its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and also screened during Telluride.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Valeriya Gay Germanika: Yes And Yes - ДА И ДА (2014)

Да и Да (2014)

Director: Valeriya Gay Germanika
Writer: Aleksandr Rodionov
Stars: Vladimir Dubosarsky, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Agniya Kuznetsova

He is an incipient modern painter, she is an incipient school teacher.Their chance acquaintance sets off a passionate but short love affair. An ugly mishap leads to a break-up. But the teacher, who once saw the world through the eyes of her beloved, returned to her own world with the soul of a painter. Now she can’t get rid of her new vision, of the painter’s gift: unwelcome memories about unfulfilled love.

Да и Да (2014)

Winner of the FIPRESCI prize and "Silver George" for the Best Director.

Jury awarded its Prize to Yes and Yes for its "original and sometimes provocative presentation and exploration of contemporary generations' way of life, creation and language". Jury member Rita Di Santo added in the press conference that the film "broadened the boundaries of cinema language" and cited Jean Luc Godard's words: "Ideas separate us, but dreams unite us". Yes and Yes also received the Kommersant Weekly Prize.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Vera Glagoleva: Two Women - Две женщины (2014)

Две женщины (2014)

Director: Vera Glagoleva
Writers: Svetlana Grudovich (screenplay), Olga Pogodina (screenplay),
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Sylvie Testud, Aleksandr Baluev

Based on a play by Russian writer Ivan Turgenev. Set in the Russian countryside at the end of the 19th century, drama turns on the wife of a rich landowner who falls in love with her son’s tutor.

Vera Glagoleva Interview:

-Why did you choose “A Month in the Country”?

— Out of a desire to show the audience in addition to the omnipresent action film format a story can be old in beautiful way, with a beautiful language. Turgenev’s language is endlessly beautiful. That’s how the play is written! The heroes experience such feelings! The most interesting thing for any actor and director is figuring out what needs to be acted out, rehearsals, and Turgenev provides enormous opportunities: delving into his work, you can open new horizons. So that is why I chose Turgenev, “A Month in Country”, and probably also playing a role here was Anatoly Efros’s production in 1977 (at the Malaya Bronnaya Theater in Moscow – ed.). That production was a major event in the theatrical world. In part because there had not yet been any film version of this work. But there were many stage productions. Strangely enough, most were in Europe, as Ivan Turgenev himself was a man of Europe. In France, England and Germany his works are always being performed. The role of Natalya Petrovna is an event of biographical importance for every actress.

— Were foreign actors brought into the film as a nod to the cosmopolitanism of the writer?

— Yes, the German tutor is played by a German (Bernd Moss – ed.), as in the 19th century it was customary to hire tutors from Europe. Natalya’s companion is a Frenchwoman. Actress Sylvie Testud beautifully reads Voltaire in French. It is quit logical. Rakitin is played by the British actor Ralph Fiennes, because in terms of his internal world, chivalry and attitude toward life his is absolutely a man of the 19th century, and this choice was now coincidence. It seemed to me that Rakitin was just this type of person.

Две женщины (2014)

— Today it is popular to change the text of the author. How did you approach the original text?

— We worked on the text. In 1909 Stanislavsky, when he was putting on this play, ruthlessly cut it down and believed that he was right to do so. We took some of the theatrics out of the text. In the play there are a lot of internal monologues which are spoken from the stage in order to show the audience the hero’s feelings. But this is not necessary for film.

— In our television series based on great literature, such as Sergey Soloviev’s “Anna Karenina”, one can see fake vases and other artificiality. You shot the picture using real film. Were you focused on accurately portraying the spirit of the time?

— It would be unethical to comment on Soloviev. There are quality television series, such as Vladimir Khtinenko’s “Dostoevsky”. But by and large everything seems rather templated. We really strived to transmit the spirit of the time and selected Glinka’s estate as the location. It is very pretty there. The museum management and department of culture of the Smolensk region were very accommodating and we received a lot of help. — How do you feel about the most recent films made based on Russian classics? Take for example Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” with Keira Knightley in the lead role.

— If we watched this film and it wasn’t called Anna Karenina and did not have any connection to the great novel, then I would say that it is a wonderful, interesting film with a large number of novelties from the director. It is a good entertaining film, surprising film. Everything is beautiful and shallow. You don’t worry about the heroine, you don’t pity anyone.

— Should classical literature not be made more modern?

— Why not, if you do it as talentedly as Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” with DiCaprio playing the main role. It is grandiose and amazing because it is a modern story and young people and for young people. Another example is Ralph Fiennes’ “Coriolanus”. This is also Shakespeare but in a modern presentation. There are relatively few successes – when classical literature placed in the present – because there is an obvious difference between what the heroes experienced then and now.

— Are you completely occupied with your film or do you already have plans for the future?

— I am not even thinking about it. Right now the most important thing is to complete it. The editing and sound. The post production will be rather complicated. As far as further plans are concerned, I would again like to take a look at the classics. Chekhov is fathomless. We’ll see.