Director: Andrei Proshkin
Writer: Aleksandr Mindadze (screenplay)
Stars: Sergey Gorobchenko, Anton Pampushny, Andrey Averyanov
With his fourth feature film, Minnesota, Andrei Proshkin, son of the well-known director Aleksandr Proshkin, continues to explore the problems facing the younger generation in contemporary Russia. His previous film, The Soldiers’ Decameron (Soldatskii dekameron, 2005), focused on the army; the present feature shifts focus to another testosterone-charged environment: the world of ice hockey.
The film is based on a screenplay by the acclaimed veteran scriptwriter Aleksandr Mindadze, written several years earlier and published in Iskusstvo kino in 2005. Its original title, Otryv (“Breakout”, or “Soaring”), suggests a deeper philosophical problematic typically explored in films based on Mindadze’s scripts. However, Mindadze ended up taking the title for his own directorial debut, released in 2007.
At the center of Minnesota is the intense relationship between two brothers, fellow hockey players, which spills into dysfunctionality. The two are stars of the local minor league team in a provincial Russian town, and appear to be very close. Yet their personalities could not be more different. The older brother, Mikhail, is fond of the bottle, freely goes back and forth between his wife and mistress, and is physically aggressive in his cruel teasing of his younger brother, Igor’, who overall comes across as essentially an earnest idealist. Igor’ is approached by a scout with an invitation to play for a team in the US (hence the title), yet the offer is extended to him alone. He is torn by the idea of being separated from his brother and initially insists the two of them be transferred together. However, Mikhail’s impulsive behavior continues to sabotage every opportunity for the two to shine together on ice in front of the scout. Mikhail also habitually chips away at his younger brother’s self-esteem, repeatedly referring to him by a feminizing nickname, “Chepchik” (‘bonnet’), and bluntly asserting, “Without me, you are nothing.” Yet all this abuse is not part of some Machiavellian plan—it is just a twisted mess of affection, rivalry, and jealousy.
Minnesota offers a thoughtful commentary on one of the key paradigms of masculinity in contemporary Russia. The screenplay’s main focus is on the moral dilemma Igor’ faces and the opportunity he ultimately loses to become fully his own person. He is torn between a genuine devotion to his brother and the promise of a new life, between hope and desperation, between a drive to succeed and a dash of the drive to self-destruct that he appears to possess, just like his brother. In the final part of the film, Igor’ draws closer to fully independent selfhood, yet this self becomes ever more damaged in the process. His brother, however, seems to turn increasingly delusional. The resolution of the film’s in truth irresolvable conflict is delivered through a deus ex machina device and makes one wonder whether the filmmakers’ imagination failed them. ...
Reviewed by Vitaly Chernetsky © 2010 in KinoKultura