Monday, 31 October 2011

Igor Voloshin: The Bedouin - Бедуин (2011)

Director:Igor Voloshin
Cast: Olga Simonova, Serafima Migai, Mikhail Yevlanov, Remigijus Sabulis, Dorzhi Galsanov, Anna Mikhalkova, Dinara Drukarova, Sergei Svetlakov, Alisa Khazanova

Reviewed by Volha Isakava © 2012 in KinoKultura 

Bedouin is a heart-wrenching drama that follows the plight of a mother attempting to save her twelve-year-old daughter from cancer. Due to the need to raise money, the heroine Rita, played by Ol’ga Simonova, leaves her native Ukraine to go to Saint Petersburg, where she becomes a surrogate mother for a gay couple, before embroiling herself in the criminal underworld. Her attempts fail and in a final act of desperation she takes her daughter, Nastia (Serafima Migai), to Jordan to live with the Bedouins, whose unconventional medicine of mixed camel milk and urine becomes her last hope. The film is a tour-de-force of desperation as we follow the heroine in her journey. It seems that many mainstream Russian films look at today's urban life as tech-savvy, connected, glamorous and comfortable, examples include the genre blockbusters Hooked (Na igre, dir. Pavel Sanaev, 2009), the comedy Lovey-Dovey (Liubov'-morkov', dir. Strizhenov, 2007), or the so-called youth film Heat (Zhara, dir. Rezo Gigineishvili, 2006). In contrast, Bedouin's use of technology implies grief and despair, as we see Rita talk to her sick daughter via low-tech videochat. Bedouin is also focused on the “lower depths,” showcasing the gritty realism of life amidst marginalized lower classes in the contemporary metropolis. The film is populated with dock workers, small-time gangsters, illegal immigrants and struggling lower-class professionals, like Rita herself or Rita’s only friend, Zina (Anna Mikhalkova), the train attendant. Their struggle for survival is filmed against the background of shabby cafes that serve as a home for immigrant families; dockyards, where blue-collar workers negotiate with the Chinese mafia; uniform suburban housing projects; and unkempt underground crosswalks. In its focus on the dangerous and undignified life of the lower classes, Bedouin is similar to other contemporary films that deal with social issues, such as The Spot (Tochka, 2006) by Iurii Moroz about the lives of street prostitutes. Bedouin weaves quite a few controversial social issues and critique into one story, which progresses from bad to worse. The controversial issues in Russia today, such as surrogate motherhood and gay parenting, are accompanied by the exposure of familiar social ills: the gang violence that plagues working-class neighborhoods and the failing health care system that extorts money from patients. In its bleak vision of society and human relations, the film harks back to the perestroika era social dramas that also emphasized the plight of the “little man” crushed by an inhumane social system. It also reminds of perestroika chernukha films, in which the insurmountable hardships often led to almost phantasmagorical unraveling of events that crushed the struggling heroes. Similarly, the plot of Bedouin starts as Rita secures herself a surrogate motherhood deal to raise money. Lonely and isolated, always barraged by bad news from home, she forms an ambiguous relationship with her neighbor Zhenia (Mikhail Evlanov), a sailor with mafia connections. When the biological parents stand her up on one of the payments, she is willing to plunge herself into the porn business as advised by her lover, who with a change of heart promises to give her the money and punish "the gays." He wrecks their car, resulting in a fatal accident, which leaves Rita with a baby but without payment. The car accident is a diablo-ex-machina device—an arbitrary cruel chance that plunges the heroine to a new abyss of despair. Shortly afterwards, she finds out that all traditional medical procedures have failed for Nastia. As if that was not enough, the neighbor brings a violent gang shooting into Rita’s home, and at some point she is forced to shoot a Chinese Mafioso with a harpoon, delivering an emotional monologue that this is not what her life is supposed to be. Such a crescendo of violence and misfortune was very typical for perestroika-era dramas which paradoxically combined gritty social realism with a dark fatalism that vanquished any hope for the characters, often via random violent occurrences. As the unfortunate turns of events start to get bloodier and more incoherent, it does not seem like a stretch that Rita packs herself and Nastia up and leaves for Jordan on a whim. ...

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