Friday, 5 August 2011

Oksana Bychkova: Piter FM - Питер FM (2006)

Director: Oksana Bychkova
Writers: Nana Grinshtein, Oksana Bychkova
Stars: Yekaterina Fedulova, Yevgeni Tsyganov,Aleksei Barabash

Masha works as a DJ for a popular Petersburg radio show; Maksim is a young architect. Masha’s getting ready to marry her old classmate, Kostia; Maskim has won an international competition and has just been offered work in Germany. Neither he nor Masha, however, are sure about things. Masha still doesn’t know if she loves Kostia or has simply got used to him. Maksim is scared that working in Germany will spoil his lifelong dream to design an amazing building in Petersburg. And who knows what would’ve happened, if Masha hadn’t lost her cell phone — and Maksim hadn’t found it…? (Promotional text)

Romantic comedies fix things; they find lost cell phones and put them back in the proper pockets. The classic three-act, seven-beat structure of a romantic comedy is invariably designed to illustrate a loss and then correct it, even if it didn’t happen in the first place. This essential scaffolding must not, however, overshadow the unexpected artfulness of something other than structure, be it fickle human nature or the equally erratic workings of fate itself. If a screenwriter “hits” his or her structural beats too hard in the closing moments of a third act, the audience is left wondering: What degree of arbitrary, unnerving existence outside the plot caused this insistent imposition of form? Oksana Bychkova’s debut film speaks to this classic conflict between destiny and design,between choice and chance.

Before Piter FM was even released, providence and planning were evident in the project’s early conception. Bankrolled by television company CTC, this feature was explicitly designed to inspire feelings of “hope” in its audience. Faith in providence (come what may) is, after all, part and parcel of a typical evening’s lineup on CTC. Many of the station’s browbeaten, love-starved, or provincial heroines strive admirably—and adorably!—against the constant blows of destiny. [1] CTC Media president Aleksandr Rodnianskii said Bychkova’s film would respect this format, whilst playing upon the structural clichés of situation comedy. It would be an innovative “dramedy”—even though this term had already been applied by Moscow’s press to another CTC show, If You Weren’t Born Pretty… (Ne rodis' krasivoi…). [2]

Dramatic elements in the comedy of Piter FM come from the outside world, from the busy, unpredictable intentions of the Big City. The little social connection of Masha and Maksim’s love affair tries to define itself against something much bigger. It steps into the rubric of quixotic films such as A Girl Without an Address (Devushka bez adresa; dir. Èldar Riazanov, 1957) or I Stride Through Moscow (Ia shagaiu po Moskve; dir. Georgii Daneliia, 1963). In these movies happenstance is a vital, cheerful counterweight to the rigid structures of Stalinist planning: the little plans of the Thaw get lost in big crowds and do happily.

Reviewed by David MacFadyen© 2006 in KinoKultura

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