Director: Stanislav Govorukhin
Stars: Fyodor Dobronravov, Olga Krasko, Aglaya Shilovskaya
First prize Festival "Vivat Kino Rossii", Russia, 2011
Audience Award Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Russia, 2010
If, as the old joke goes, the archetypal Socialist realist romance followed the formula “Boy gets tractor,” Stanislav Govorukhin’s Jazz Style has introduced a new master plot for the new-moneyed, post-Soviet generation: girl gets motorcycle. Such is the climax of this gentle, visually rich, and narratively underwhelming film, starring Olga Kras’ko as Ira, a theatre actress venturing unsuccessfully into cinema, and Michal Zebrowski as Sergei, the overpaid novelist-turned-screenwriter who falls for her at first sight. With his relaxed charisma (and the gentle growl of a Polish George Clooney), Zebrowski’s character effortlessly captures the hearts of Ira’s mother and sister as well – setting the stage for a prolonged quadrangular intrigue. Yet this summary has already implied more plot tension than the film delivers. Having flounced off set in the opening scenes of Jazz Style, Ira never betrays the slightest subsequent regret for her movie career, apart from wistfully fondling a few DVDs in her local gastronom. Zebrowski resists the charms of both Ira’s teenage siren sister Zhenia (Aglaia Shilovskaia in her debut role), and the girls’ glamorous air stewardess mother Vera (Elena Iakovleva). The plot flows from one shop-worn romantic scenario to the next with the easy-going syncopation of a jazz suite, underscored by a luxurious bluesy soundtrack and punctuated with cameos by jazz musician David Goloshchekin and his orchestra. This is a film which relies on cliché, both narrative and cinematic, to make its points—if indeed there is a point at all.
The love story between Ira and Sergei, for instance, opens with a tricolon of slapstick incidents. Ira, who is playing a society dame in the screen version of Sergei’s novel, has to slap a perfidious suitor in the face. After several failed takes, she swings too hard and accidentally floors her co-star, causing her hasty flight from filming. Later the same day, Sergei is steering his glossy VW sedan along a Moscow street when he accidentally knocks Ira off her feet—coincidentally, at a spot just adjacent to her own apartment building, where Sergei duly turns up unheralded that evening with an extravagant peace offering of flowers. Despite joining forces with the brash and minxy Zhenia to inveigle Ira into a romantic dinner date, Sergei is forced to settle for a jazz concert (featuring Goloshchekin’s troupe) the following evening. During these encounters, Ira emerges as a proponent of maternal values, from home cooking to home remedies for coughs and colds. Sergei has to play up to this maternal side (by revealing a high temperature) to get invited upstairs after their date. Nonetheless, Ira also manifests a surprising gift for street violence: together, she and Sergei spontaneously see off a couple of thugs who fail to show a lady proper respect (Ira using her stiletto heel as an effective handheld weapon). Over a nightcap of tea and honey, Ira and Sergei indulge in flirtatious dialogue so remarkably wooden (“Can’t you see? I’m an extremely suspicious type.”—“That’s exactly why I know I can trust you.”—“How can you be so sure?” —“Because I associate with extremely suspicious types.”) that it actually induces a nosebleed in one of the actors. When first Zhenia and then Vera arrive home, Sergei finds himself at the centre of a set piece of matrilineal harmony, sharing an enormous melon and quaffing cognac with the girls. Vertiginously soon, he is accepted as Ira’s intended and as one of the family. When he flies to Odessa with the film crew, he encounters Vera on the same plane and spontaneously invites her to join him for dinner at an Odessa restaurant. Their date ranges through the clichés of Black Sea cinema, including a beach scene, an Odessa Steps shot, and a ludicrously prolonged, gluttonous feast at a seaside restaurant. At the end of the night, Vera has to guide Sergei back to his hotel and put the unconscious writer to bed (assisted by the director’s winsome assistant; it is suggestively unclear who is chaperoning whom). After Sergei’s return from Odessa, he asks Zhenia’s advice on choosing the perfect birthday present for Ira. It must be expensive, but not too bling; romantic, but original. Zhenia helps him select a motorcycle. Flattered that people take her for Sergei’s girlfriend, she tries to seduce him in earnest. Sergei firmly refuses, calling her a ‘capricious, spoiled infant’ and warning, ‘I can handle you’ (‘Ia spravlius’’). Zhenia restrains her hurt pride until all four arrive at the family dacha to celebrate Ira’s birthday. There, while Sergei is sent off to buy alcohol, Zhenia’s carelessness with some color prints exposes the fact that both mother and sister have had secret, apparently compromising meetings with Ira’s lover (Vera involuntarily lets slip about the night in Odessa). Fuming, Ira determines to finish with Sergei. Fortunately, the motorcycle is delivered just in time to convince her of his love; and Jazz Style ends with a panoramic view of the undulating Moscow River and a comical shot of Zhenia apparently pursuing, or fleeing, the lovers on her bicycle, pedaling furiously and weeping into the wind (oddly reminiscent of the cycling scenes in Pyriev’s The Tractor Drivers [Traktoristy, 1939]). In the very final scene, Zhenia reappears as a vocalist in Goloshchekin’s band.
Reviewed by Muireann Maguire © 2012 in KinoKultura