Director: Boris Khlebnikov
Writers: Boris Khlebnikov (screenplay), Aleksandr Rodionov (screenplay)
Stars: Yevgeni Syty, Sergei Dontsov,Anna Mikhalkova
Help Gone Mad directed by Boris Khlebnikov is a testimonial to the emerging innovative (and intellectually challenging) character of contemporary Russian cinema exemplified by such filmmakers as Aleksei Balabanov, Kira Muratova, and Aleksei German Jr. among others. Their films are neither conventional historical films nor biopics characterized by a monumental “epic” style, conventional generic nor obscurely avant-garde filmmaking. But these films are clever, critical, and erudite. The filmmakers engage with Russian culture through allusions, directly or indirectly to media, by a complex treatment of narrative and image. Avoiding didacticism, they figuratively probe madness and politics, war, the effects of mindless and soul-destroying bureaucracy, thwarted desire, the deleterious consequences of a lack of belief in life, and the uses and abuses of the past.
Similar to Free Floating (Svobodnoe plavanie, 2006), Help Gone Mad is an eclectic work that merges silent cinema, comedy, satire, realism and fantasy, pantomime, and allegory to entertain a number of motifs that bear on the evolution of recent Russian cinema: regionalism, pastoral and urban life, the law, police, madness and bodily existence. Narrative is fractured and subordinated to the film’s allegorical treatment of character and other visual (and auditory) emblems. Its uses of allegory are of a critical and speculative character consonant with Gilles Deleuze’s descriptions of Walter Benjamin’s conception of modern allegory: “Walter Benjamin … showed that allegory was not a failed symbol, or an abstract personification, but a power of figuration… uncover[ing] nature and history according to the order of time. It produces a history of nature and transforms history into nature in a world that no longer has its center” (Deleuze 1993: 125). This form of allegory, offers a vision (through thought) of decaying structures, ruins that “no longer hold away over the collective imagination” and thus it becomes possible “to recognize them as … illusory dream images” (Buck-Morss, 159), forms of magical thinking.
Help Gone Mad is such an allegory, undertaking a de-centered examination of contemporary culture and history. Albeit by indirection, the film offers the spectator an investigative cinema in which language, sound and silence, visibility and invisibility, are emblematic of the precariousness of seeing, naming and acting. Disdainful of conventional realism, the film selects three allegorical male figures: a childlike (porcine) Evgenii (Evgenii Sytyi); an unstable delusional old man, retired and claiming to have been an engineer (Sergei Dreiden); a hallucinatory policeman, Godaev (Igor’ Chernevich) identified by his colleagues as a veteran of the war in Chechnya.
Reviewed by Marcia Landy © 2009 in KinoKultura
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Sergei DREYDEN , "NIKA" Prizes, Russia, 2010
Best directing Boris KHLEBNIKOV , Festival of Central and Eastern Film , Germany, 2009
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Anna MIKHALKOVA , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2009
Like his previous film, Free Floating, director Boris Khlebnikov’s Help Gone Mad is a quiet, quirky examination of the lives of people living on the periphery of contemporary Russian Society. Trained as a film critic, rather than as a director, Khlebnikov’s films are typical of art-house cinema―well liked by critics and festival audiences (they have won prizes in Cannes, Moscow, and Sochi), but poorly attended by general. Help Gone Mad was co-written by Aleksandr Rodionov, a playwright associated with the theatre, teatr.doc (where the stage version of Vyrypaev’s Oxygen was performed) who has become a mainstay of contemporary Russian cinema, contributing to the screenplays for Free Floating, Khomeriki’s Tale in the Darkness, and Proshkin’s Live and Remember.
The film follows Zhenia (Evgenii Sytyi), a Belarusian guest-worker who, having lost everything during a mugging shortly after his arrival in Moscow, is taken in by a retired engineer (Sergei Dreiden), quickly becoming the Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote. Although it seems at times that Zhenia’s loyalty to the engineer stems almost entirely from the latter’s willingness to feed and shelter him (throughout the films Zhenia eats and sleeps at every possible opportunity), the guest-worker dutifully aids his master in his mad attempts to save the people of his apartment complex. And they need saving; the neighborhood is patrolled by a lazy but brutal policeman (Igor' Chernevich) who, exhibiting his own symptoms of madness, hallucinates about the imminent loss of his job.
The action takes place in a desolate suburban landscape, seemingly entirely cut off from the center. We are confronted by long shots, scaled to dwarf their human subjects, framed around the geometry of the built environment―crosses created by the intersection of prefabricated concrete housing units, horizontal stripes painted across facades, and the intricate hatchwork of iron grilles intended to prevent burglaries. Here the major sign of life, as Zhenia discovers shortly after his arrival, is the turning on and off of lights within the grid of windows facing a courtyard. This space is marked by a near absence of nature, with the major exception of a duck pond, which is afforded significant power by the engineer (even here, though, the ducks live in a wooden house).
This lack of nature serves to highlight Zhenia’s displacement from his Belarusian village (where the correctness of his fit is highlighted by the film’s opening shots connecting him to the pig that is traded for his ticket to Moscow), but he is not the only displaced person in the film. The engineer’s daughter (Anna Mikhalkova) is displaced by Zhenia, who occupies her father’s attention, her former bedroom, and even her childhood toys. The engineer is also displaced temporally, fondly remembering a time when things were, somehow, in a way he can’t quite describe, better.