Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ivan Tverdovsky: Corrections Class - Класс коррекции (2014)

Класс коррекции (2014)

Director: Ivan I. Tverdovsky
Writer: Ivan I. Tverdovsky
Stars: Mariya Poezzhaeva, Filipp Avdeyev, Nikita Kukushkin

Offering further evidence that — in the wake of 2012’s Anton’s Right Here and the recent Cannes Critics’ Week winner The Tribe — the former Soviet Union is a lousy place to raise children with special needs, director Ivan Tverdovsky’s drama Corrections Class focuses on a gaggle of disabled teens in a Russian high school. Ghettoized and neglected by the school and bullied by their peers, the kids turn on each other when the fragile balance of the group is thrown out of whack by the arrival of a newcomer. Progressively disturbing but not without moments of humor, joy and grace, Corrections Class won the best debut prize at Sochi’s Kinotavr festival and plays in Karlovy Vary’s East-of the-West competition.

Класс коррекции (2014)

Set in what looks like a pretty nondescript, typically cruddy-looking suburb that could be anywhere in Russia, the story revolves around a large school incorporating both elementary and secondary school-aged children, a structure that could just as easily pass for a factory or a mental asylum. On her way to her first day at school, pretty 11th-grader Lena (Maria Poezhaeva), who has myopathy which confines her mostly to a wheelchair, and her mother (Natalia Pavlenkova) have to wait to cross a railway line. Another teenager has been killed on the tracks, sounding a somewhat too obvious symbolic note of doom.

At school, Lena and her mom are told off by the officious principal (veteran Natalya Domeretskaya) for being late even though the building has no wheelchair ramps or elevators which means Lena has to make the slow, painful walk up the stairs on foot. She soon meets her peers in the corrections class, a sort of holding pen for physically and mentally challenged students, most of whom would probably be blended into the mainstream in settings with a more enlightened attitude toward disability. Shy, handsome Anton (Filipp Avdeev), for instance, has epilepsy. Another girl (Maria Uryadova) has dwarfism. Mitya (Artyom Markaryan) has a stutter, while his sister Vitya (Yulia Serina) reports she’s not actually sick at all. It’s never revealed what’s supposed to be amiss with ringleader Misha (Nikita Kukushkin), who seems perfectly able-bodied if clearly damaged psychologically, judging by later events. All the kids will soon be assessed at an upcoming, cross-body commission about whether they can be blended into the mainstream. Some, like Lena, hope this will be the case in order to improve her future job prospects, but others have given up all hope of integration.

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Russian Films Take Top Prizes at Cottbus Festival

Ivan Tverdovsky's Corrections Class, which won Karlovy Vary's East of the West competition in July, took the event's main prize worth $25,000, and Test won best director and $10,000 for helmer Alexander Kott. 

The festival, held in a small former East German town southeast of Berlin, is one of the world's leading showcases of movies from Soviet and former Warsaw Pact countries.

Tverdovsky's film, his feature debut, is about a paraplegic named Lena who learns how emotionally unstable personal relations can be among young people on the edge of society. The Cottbus jury was impressed by its "unsentimental, unpretentious approach to an important social issue by an excellent ensemble of actors."

Kott's "quirky and visually stunning" film, based on an obscure chapter in postwar Soviet history, is about a young woman involved in a love triangle.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Andrey Zvyagintsev: On art-house film, spirituality and the rule of law

The film Leviathan by Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev received the award for Best Script at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has been submitted for an Oscar nomination and was recently named the best film at the BFI London Film Festival. In an interview with RBTH, Zvyagintsev discusses the selection of his film as Russia’s Oscar submission, the relationship between spirituality and the rule of law, and what an ideal state should strive for. 

RBTH: Your film is based on the story of Marvin Heemeyer and his struggle against the state machine. What got you interested in the American’s story and why did you decide to move it to a Russian setting? 

Andrey Zvyagintsev: Marvin John Heemeyer had a muffler shop standing on a plot of land that a cement plant wanted to buy from him. Marvin refused a deal and the cement plant built a fence around his property, blocking access to it. Having despaired, Marvin then took a bulldozer, drove it through the plant and several other buildings and then killed himself [Heemeyer had modified the bulldozer by adding armor-plating – RBTH]. When I heard this story in 2008, I was amazed that it should have taken place in the U.S. A revolt against injustice perpetrated by the authorities, lawlessness that the man came up against – how could all that be possible in the United States, which is considered to be governed by the rule of law and where anyone can prove they are right by seeking justice in a court of law? Does it mean that not all is quite so fine there? That prompted me to think that the state is more or less the same everywhere and that lawlessness, to this or that degree, exists everywhere. It is a banal, simple thought but it struck me. Recently I came across a wonderful question in St Augustine’s The City of God: how is the state different from a gang of thieves? Both are a community of people. Both are run by a leader. Both have an established and agreed system of relations. The only thing that sets them apart is the presence of the law. Thus, if a state loses the rule of law, it turns into a gang of thieves. If a person can always expect to get protection in a court of law; if the law applies to everyone irrespective of their rank and title and everyone is equal in front of the law, then this is an ideal form of the state. That thought convinced me that in his treatise Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes was fundamentally mistaken to idealize the state. An ideal model can be created on paper, however the minute a human being, with all their vices and faults, comes on stage, any ideal will easily turn into its opposite. It is no longer a social contract but a contract with the Devil. A contract under which a person gives up their freedoms in exchange for bogus social protection. 

RBTH: What is your take on the debate that is now gaining currency about the alleged lack of spirituality in the West as opposed to Russian spirituality? 

A.Z.: It would be easier to speak of spirituality if our country were truly governed by the rule of law. Spirituality is a metaphysical concept and it could be used to think up anything and to justify anything. Thus, we are back again to the idea of a state governed by the rule of law. When a person is protected, they are sound in body and in mind, they feel different. Whereas, when one has to constantly think of self-defense when going out into the street because they know that the police will not protect them, there can be no talk of a sound mind and spirit. 

RBTH: By selecting Leviathan, the Russian Oscar committee appears to have changed its tactics: Previously it tended to give preference to large-scale, epic movies, whereas now it has opted for a low-key social drama. Why, do you think? 

A.Z.: I am, of course, an interested party here, but – if looked at from a detached position – it was a breakthrough: The establishment lost that round. The eternal and omnipotent Russian cronyism suddenly suffered a glitch. There are two reasons for this: The serious and responsible attitude of Leviathan producer Alexander Rodnyansky, who did everything so that as many members of the commission saw it on as big a screen as possible. And the other reason is that the Oscar committee has considerably expanded its membership. It now has fewer partisan figures and more people who are less dependent on the establishment. The commission now has more members who are free and are capable of voicing independent opinions.

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Leviathan by Andrey Zvyagintsev to be Nominated for Oscar

The Russian Oscar committee has selected Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film Leviathan to represent Russia.

This was reported to Interfax by a source in the Oscar committee on Sunday. According to the agency’s interlocutor, the Oscar commission was considering two candidates, namely Leviathan and Gorko! directed by Zhora Kryzhovnikov. As a result Zvyagintsev's work got twice more votes than Kryzhovnikov's movie.

The Leviathan film producer Alexander Rodnyansky commented on the event: “Certainly, we hope very much that our relations with Oscar will go on and then it will be a victory of the big Russian cinema, whatever somebody’s attitude to this film may be”.


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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