Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Renata Litvinova: The Goddess - Богиня: как я полюбила (2004)
Director: Renata Litvinova
Writer: Renata Litvinova
Stars: Renata Litvinova, Maksim Sukhanov,Svetlana Svetlichnaya
Since her screen acting debut in Kira Muratova’s Passions (1994), Renata Litvinova has become one of the most immediately recognizable figures in modern Russian cinema. Bold and precise red lipstick, the classic scent of Red Moscow perfume, sculpted waves of blond hair, and careful attention to wardrobe—such minutiae generate a sense of glamour indebted to the sirens of the silver screen. Simultaneously, Litvinova’s cult status is intimately connected with her style of performance, particularly in Muratova’s films. Hers is a hyper-stylized performance, in which the understanding of character is inevitably restricted to surfaces, leaving no access to interiority or in fact exposing that beneath her exterior lies only a consuming emptiness. In essence, the symbolic dynamic that Litvinova introduces into any given film is the absolute attractiveness of the death drive, a Charybdis that not all around her can successfully navigate.
In The Goddess, Litvinova examines this dynamic further, expanding on the experience of one individual from her array of beautiful homunculi. Faina is an investigator with a division of Moscow police, who has an uncanny and hit-and-miss style of inspection, who lives in a moodily dilapidated apartment with red high heels for house-slippers, and who is haunted by dreams that exhort her toward death. All of the above seems related directly to her great tragic flaw: “I do not understand anything about love.” Faina states this, truthfully and without affectation, and elicits any number of allusive definitions of love: it is a river one cannot climb out of; it is something not quite fleshy, but still bloody; it is viscerally fleshy as well as bloody; it is the meaning of life. These definitions, for the most part realized verbally instead of visually, fail for the greater part of the film to resonate within Faina’s loveless soul.
The space left by love’s absence is filled with a burgeoning multitude of symbols with a single, indefatigably consistent referent: dead fish and pesky ravens, chilled flies and dampness and cigarette butts―all of these coalesce into a very profound sense of lifelessness. Uniting these sites of death is a sense of decrepitude, nowhere more palpable than in the wayfarer’s station between life and death, the glass-walled cafeteria where individuals pick over the remains of liquid meals—soup and cognac.
Known for her ethereal voice, stream-of-consciousness language, and retro blonde glamour, Renata Litvinova has been something of a mass-media icon for over a decade thanks to her roles in several films by Kira Muratova and her frequent television appearances, often as a fashion commentator. She is also a VGIK-trained screenwriter, and has written or co-written a handful of feature films, most memorably Valerii Todorovskii’s Land of the Deaf (Strana glukhikh, 1998), based on her novella To Possess and Belong (Obladat' i prinadlezhat'). She recently established an international presence with her role in Peter Greenaway’s The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part Three: From Sark to Finish (2003). The Goddess is Litvinova’s debut as a director of acted cinema, and it showcases all of these personae—writer, actress, cult figure, Muratova protégée—in ways that illustrate both the drawbacks and advantages of being one’s own muse.
Litvinova directs herself as Faina, a Moscow detective investigating the disappearance of a little girl. Despite narrative and stylistic nods to detective noir in the first half, however, the investigation is ultimately incidental to the film. Already considered eccentric by her police colleagues, Faina grows less and less interested in making sense of empirical reality and becomes increasingly absorbed by the otherworldliness represented by looking glasses and dreams (mostly of her dead mother, played by Svetlana Svetlichnaia, a legendary Soviet femme fatale in her own right, from Leonid Gaidai’s film Diamond Arm [Brilliantovaia ruka, 1968]). Litvinova finally abandons the crime genre completely in favor of what might be termed decadent surrealism, an impressionistic visual and verbal infatuation with death and love.
Death dominates Faina’s consciousness, and therefore the diegesis, both metaphorically and metonymically. Litvinova’s skill as a screenwriter is most apparent in the variety of ways she manages to combine death and her other theme, love, in single images or events. An ominous black raven leaves a row of dead fish on Faina’s windowsill, the way a pet brings trophy kills to its beloved owner. Her mother and the other denizens of the afterlife who populate her dreams lovingly encourage her to embrace death without fear. A woman in a cafeteria describes the details of her own will, emphasizing her imminent death not as a tragedy, but an act of devotion to her sister, the beneficiary. Faina encounters a near-suicide, a suicide, a double suicide, and a professor able to visit the realm of the dead via intravenous drugs and antique mirrors. This last encounter allows Faina (and Litvinova the writer/director) to complete her trajectory towards exclusive obsession with love and death or, more precisely, with death as the key to understanding and achieving love, an emotion and a concept that Faina admits has always escaped her. ...
Reviewed by Seth Graham©2005 in KinoKultura