Monday, 20 June 2011

Dmitri Meskhiyev: The Man at the Window - Человек у окна (2010)

Director: Dmitrii Meskhiev
Cast: Iurii Stoianov, Kristina Kuzmina, Sergei Garmash, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Mariia Zvonareva

The film’s protagonist, Aleksandr Sergeevich (Shura) Dronov has an unremarkable theater career and a sagging family life. His real passion is watching life outside the windows, an obsession for which he has an uncanny explanation. Shura’s accidental meeting with a young woman and her New Russian boyfriend changes Shura’s life and profoundly affects the lives of those around him.

Shura Dronov is played by Iurii Stoianov whose persona as an actor has been cemented by the popular comic TV show Gorodok (Little Town), in which Stoianov has played a variety of contemporary types, most prominently rather corpulent women. In Man at the Window, he appears in the uncharacteristic role of a tragic-comic lover boy. Meskhiev, however, smartly uses Stoianov’s talent for comic skits. Delivered at the subtle border between performance and authenticity, Shura’s monologues are surprisingly captivating. Likewise, Sergei Garmash and Vladimir Vdovichenkov act out of character and succeed in their roles. The director claims that, in trying to make a feel-good-movie without any art cinema tricks, he was not afraid of clichés and banality. Simple stories of love, adultery, jealousy, loyalty, sacrifice, and kindness have indeed been on the back-burner of recent Russian cinema. Meskhiev tells a story of human relationships and has the language to do it.

Shura is a fool-in-Christ character, a voice of prophetic and benign irrationality. The genealogy of this character goes back to Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin (Shura is repeatedly called an ‘idiot”) and El'dar Riazanov’s Iurii Detochkin (Beware of a Car, 1966). Meskhiev’s Shura actually endures all the plot turns of Riazanov’s comedy: he is suspected of insanity, then is declared to be a social idiot, plays a Robin Hood-like character, and finally is tried and sent to jail. Illuminated by a divine wisdom of sorts, Dronov turns well-entrenched social norms upside down. These include the racist treatment of migrant workers, misogynistic treatment of women in modern-day families, and corruption as the main way to socialize children. The film, however, neither relishes its cultural references nor aspires for the status of a social problem film. It delivers its social critique indirectly, via the means of genre cinema: comedy and, above all, melodrama. ...

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