Stars:Evgeniya Dobrovolskaya, Aleksandr Golubkov, Aleksey Kravchenko
Vladimir Kott’s debut film Mukha was released in Russia in June 2008 and was praised by many international film critics. It received a number of awards at different international festivals, among which are the Special Prize of the International Expert Jury for European Debuts at the International Festival for Children and Youth Cinema in the Czech Republic (2008), the Best Film Award at the 11th Shanghai Film Festival (2008), the Best Debut at the 18th International Film Festival in Germany (2008), and the People’s Choice Award at the Festival of Russian Cinema Univercine in France (2009). ...
Mukha is the debut feature film by 35-year-old Vladimir Kott, who previously directed several television serials, including NTV's Family Exchange (Rodstvennyi obmen, 2005) and Channel One's eight-episode Hunter (Okhotnik, 2006). According to the director, Mukha—The Fly is about his own thirty-something generation, a cohort that Kott characterizes as “infantile” and “irresponsible” (Chistikova). Interpreted from this perspective, the film offers a broader metaphor for individual self-discovery and personal growth in today's Russia. With more than a hint of melodrama, Mukha's narrative framework involves multiple threads that ultimately stem from a portrayal of a teenage girl's surrogate family and her relationship with the man who might be her biological father.
Mukha's plot is relatively straightforward. Fedor Mukhin (Aleksei Kravchenko), a womanizing, long-haul truck driver, receives a telegram in which a woman called Mariia declares her love for him and asks him to drive immediately to her home town of Barabash. Although he does not seem to recall who Mariia is, Fedor takes off for Barabash only to discover upon his arrival that Mariia has just passed away. As he is about to depart from Barabash, Fedor learns that Mariia has bequeathed to him all her earthly possessions, including a teenage daughter named Vera (played by Aleksandra Tiuftei). Vera, who bears Fedor's last name, Mukhina (nicknamed Mukha, hence the title of the film), is the town's female hooligan who has a penchant for pyromania. Just prior to Fedor's arrival in Barabash, Vera was arrested on charges of arson and assaulting a local tycoon. Presented with the choice of either allowing the girl to be sent to jail or paying off the tycoon, Fedor makes the decision to come to the aid of his “newly-found daughter.” Since he has no cash on hand, Fedor decides to stay in Barabash and wait for his truck driver comrades to wire him the requisite funds. In the interim he finds work in the town, first as a driver of a septic service truck, and subsequently as a physical education instructor at the local high school. He also moves into Vera's and her deceased mother's house.
Sharing narrative (and in part, visual) tropes with such seminal perestroika era films about “difficult” teenagers as Mikhail Tumanishvili's Avariia—Cop's Daughter (Avariia—doch' menta, 1989), Isaak Fridberg's Doll (Kukolka, 1988), as well as Juris Podnieks's documentary Is it Easy to be Young? (Vai viegli but jaunam?, 1987) the tension of the father-daughter relationship ultimately shapes the compositional framework of Kott's film. Mukha (with a nod to Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, 2004) spends most her free time at a boxing gym and, when not in the ring, she participates in gang fights alongside her male classmates. The girl also appears to reject her newly found father. Her bursts of anger directed against Fedor express themselves in acts that range from the petty to the criminal: a daily ritual of breaking his toothbrush, obliging him sleep in the barn, or spiking Fedor's tea with a sleeping pill and then—while he is fast asleep inside the house—setting the structure ablaze. While some of these acts are supposedly provoked by Mukha's refusal to accept Fedor as her father, others stem from the girl's jealousy of his “popularity” among the town's female citizens (including teachers and girls from Mukha's own high school). The scenes where Mukha cries herself to sleep when her “father” does not come home at night, or grills him with questions the following morning, or when she appears topless in front of him—all suggest an ambiguous erotic tension between the two characters. In one of the film's closing scenes Fedor explicitly claims that he had never actually met Mukha's mother in the flesh and only knew her from an epistolary distance. It therefore is ultimately left to the viewer to decide if Fedor is indeed Mukha's biological father and whether this film is an idealized “parable” of a reconstructed (albeit highly dysfunctional) family. ...
Reviewed by Olga Mesropova© 2008 in KinoKultura