Director: Angelina Nikonova
Writers: Olga Dykhovichnaya, Angelina Nikonova
Stars: Sergei Borisov, Olga Dykhovichnaya, Sergei Golyudov
Angelina Nikonova’s first film, Twilight Portrait, engages with a wide range of issues that involve sexual violence, gender, abuse of children, police brutality, the dysfunctional family, and corporate business in a contemporary Russian metropolitan milieu. The film avoids conventional engagement with past Russian history and regional identity. Not a monumental blockbuster, an allegory, nor a fantasy, Twilight Portrait focuses on a politics of the present. This is not to say that the film eschews a historical perspective, but in its episodic structure concentrates on breaking the hold of repetition manifested in various dimensions of everyday life. The style evokes television melodrama and especially the woman’s film developed through a number of episodes that center on rape, as trope to create a portrait of estrangement, physical and verbal terror that often exceeds a sociological treatment. What is distinctive is Twilight Portrait’s sustained focus on its female protagonist, Marina Sergeevna, played by Ol’ga Dykhovichnaia, who is both observer and actor along with sharing responsibility for the script. The various episodes dramatize and visualize her transformation from a passive figure to one actively embracing an unknown future. Furthermore, in its focus on female vulnerability, not only through her role but also through that of other female characters, the film avoids the familiar treatment of woman solely as victim. Rather, the victims are children subjugated to the terrorism of the family. However, as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent through its style that its politics are tied to institutions through language and silence, and that the film is more invested in investigating the role of verbal, visual, and gestural language than in reproducing a conventional realist and feminist narrative. The opening is a prologue to the callous indifference of the film’s world by plunging the viewer directly into a portrait of brutality. Three policemen (cops) on the prowl in a police car patrol their route and witness a young woman alight from a truck and run frantically into a barren and scruffy wooded area. She is exhorted by loudspeaker to stop running as she attempts vainly to escape. The shot of the brutalized nameless young woman, referred to by the police as a “tramp,” cuts to Marina, awakened by the sound of screams. Disturbed, she rises, goes to the window and exhorts two men to investigate. They are at a table surrounded by numerous liquor bottles where Il’ia, her husband, and his business associate Valera are discussing their business ventures, anticipating support from Marina’s wealthy father. The two men claim not to have heard the screams, thus introducing the film’s concern with hearing and selective cultural deafness. She helps Valera up as her husband remains drunkenly passive, and the scene returns to the wooded landscape as one cop takes money from the girl’s purse while another rapes her. The third cop, in the patrol car, Andrei (Sergei Borisov), reproaches the driver for keeping the money he has taken, and the car drives off as the reproached cop throws some money on the road, for the young woman “to buy new panties,” leaving her crying bitterly on the ground.
Reviewed by Marcia Landy in KinoKultura