Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Kira Muratova: The Tuner - Настройщик (2004)

Director: Kira Muratova
Script: Sergei Chetvertokov, with Evgenii Golubenko and Kira Muratova (an improvisation on themes from Arkadii Koshko)
Cinematography: Gennadii Kariuk
Art Director: Evgenii Golubenko
Cast: Georgii Deliev, Alla Demidova, Renata Litvinova, Nina Ruslanova

Seeking marriage through newspaper ads, Liuba (Nina Ruslanova), a nurse, is bilked by a stranger whom she mistakes for her new date. Liuba's elderly girlfriend, Anna Sergeevna (Alla Demidova) is defrauded in a different fashion: having placed an ad for a piano tuner, she is entrapped by Andrei (Georgii Deliev), who is not only an excellent tuner, but also a reasonably good scam artist. Andrei and his current lover, Lina (played by Russia's newest cult figure, Renata Litvinova), attempt to gain the women's trust by retrieving Liuba's money. Placing their own fake ad in a newspaper so as to locate the suspect, Andrei and Lina return the stolen money, then swindle both women through an elaborate forgery scheme—in a word, normal human nature à la Muratova.

Surface, paper, and the fictional self emerge as the organizing themes of The Tuner, for which Renata Litvinova's Warholian superficiality is ideally suited. The opening scene sets its characters against a backdrop of fluttering ads. And although paper—the ads, the newspaper pages, the bank certificates, the forged papers, fake love letters, the monetary bills—is the film's dominant medium for the "scam self," Litvinova is a multi-media scam artist, performing best on the cell phone. And Muratova, we realize by the film's end, prefers celluloid. The scam artist, the musical artist, and the film artist collapse into a single shot when, in an extended take near the conclusion, Andrei stares out at us, accompanying himself on the (now) well-tuned piano. His knowing wink suggests that what had begun as a deceptive newspaper ad is also the film itself.

Several of Muratova's trademark devices resurface in this new work. Here her episodic eccentrics include a retarded deaf-mute; a toga-clad wine-seller who offers free rosè and a nameless blind man who is granted the film's final lines. When we were younger, we might have mistaken these vignettes as redemptive pathos in Muratova's work; now retrospectively, we observe them with cooler eyes as minor sightings in Muratova's game preserve of the human species. A second trademark device is her love of "cultural intermezzo": here, a gaggle of charmingly inept musicians and a girl singer-songwriter, performing on public transport. Aficionados of Muratova's work will remember Aleksandra Svenskaia's trumpet performance (Asthenic Syndrome, 1989) and Gena's declamatory lyrics in the opening scene of Three Stories (1997). This is Muratova's utopian dimension: art as irredeemably unprofessional, yet utterly self-sufficient, the flawless conjuration of an inner hallucination.

What then is a "tuner"? Anna Sergeevna reminds us that any good musician needs a "personal tuner," who attends to the pianist, not the piano ("everyone needs a tuner"). This is no metaphor for psychotherapy; but an unwitting acknowledgment of life's enduring availability to the marauder for capture, plunder, and annihilation. In the end, Andrei does not murder Anna Sergeevna, but merely swindles her and disappears. Turning to the police, the victims find they can agree upon no common description of Andrei. A certain Gogolian indeterminacy has rendered him indescribable. They themselves have been "tuned"; the tuner has left; the film is done. ...

Awards :
Best actress Alla DEMIDOVA , Golden Eagle awards, Russia, 2006
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nina RUSLANOVA , Golden Eagle awards, Russia, 2006
Best actress Alla DEMIDOVA , "NIKA" Prizes, Russia, 2005
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nina RUSLANOVA , "NIKA" Prizes, Russia, 2005
Best directing Kira MURATOVA , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Best Set Decoration Yevgeni GOLUBENKO , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Best actress Alla DEMIDOVA , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 2004
Prix Nika de la meilleure réalisation et du meilleur rôle féminin (Alla Demidova), 2004

At the heart of Kira Muratova’s newest film, The Tuner (Nastroishchik, 2004), is her characteristic and enduring love of predation—predation for its own sake. Of course, any talk of “the heart of Muratova’s work” is a judgment of anatomy rather than sentiment, as any admirer would attest. Author of sixteen films over forty-two years, Muratova is best known in the West for her political rehabilitation during the perestroika period and the un-shelving of her so-called provincial melodramas, Brief Encounters (Korotkie vstrechi, 1967/1987) and Long Farewells (Dolgie provody, 1971/1987). With The Tuner, she has produced an extraordinary new film that offers a complex assessment of the human subject, civilization, and the creative act. ...

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