Director: Alexander Veledinsky
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Elena Lyadova, Anna Ukolova, Evgenia Khirivskaya
First prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Best actor Konstantin KHABENSKY , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Best music Aleksey ZUBAREV , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Prize of Film Distributor's Jury Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia),2013
Though he can barely read a map, a cranky but lovable biologist becomes a provincial geography teacher in the tragicomedy The Geographer Drank His Globe Away (Geograf globus propil), Russian director Alexander Veledinsky's adaptation of the bestseller by Alexei Ivanov. The film has been a hit at Russophone festivals, taking home top jury honors at both Sochi and Odessa. The Odessa audience award win also bodes well for the film's local release, scheduled for Nov. 7 on a pretty wide 400 screens. Further festival action is assured, though theatrical sales might be limited by the relatively mainstream nature of the material, especially once it leaves its bleak provincial city setting for the countryside.
Cantankerous Victor (Konstantin Khabensky) is desperate for work and manages, despite being a biologist by training, to talk his way into a geography-teacher position at a high school in Perm, in the Russian boondocks (it's over 1,000 miles east of Moscow). But the kids in his classes are an unruly bunch and his life at home with his wife, Nadya (Elena Lyadova), offers little reprieve, as the two bicker like there's no tomorrow -- at least, until Nadya suggests they get a divorce.
Things start to look up when Victor's old buddy, Budkin (Alexander Robak), moves into the Soviet-era high-rise on the opposite side of the street, mainly because that means Victor has company for his drinking-to-forget sessions and Veledinsky -- by way of novelist Ivanov -- has an excuse to introduce more colorful, if one-note, female characters, including Budkin's ex-girlfriend, (Anna Ukolova), whose knowledge of geography is as small as Victor's; Kira (Evgenia Khirivskaya), a sexy German teacher at school and, lastly, an unexpected love interest for Budkin. Unsurprisingly, the women are all strictly observed from a male point of view.
Ivanov's novel was set in the 1990s and its protagonists were about a decade younger than the fortysomethings shown here. Just after the fall of Communism, the future of the characters was also more uncertain than the one in this contemporary update, which, at least initially, seems to suggest that life is and will remain as bleak and stagnant as current-day, winter-time provincial Russia.
The funny, smart and rather subversive Geographer Drank His Globe Away (Geograf Globus Propil) – which won the main prizes at this year’s Odessa International Film Festival and the Open Russian Film Festival ‘Kinotavr’ at Sochi – is a film that clicks with audiences who embrace with bitter humour, sexual shenanigans, engaging performances and bleak backdrop. Set for a Russian release later this year, it should find its home on the festival circuit, though whether it may be too mainstream to work for international art house distributors.
Alexander Veleninsky has transplanted his adaptation of Alexei Ivanov’s novel from the 1990s to the present day, allowing plenty of pot shots at the current state of Russia, while also making great use of the cold and bitter backdrops of Perm, Zakamsk in the Lower Kuria district and Usva, in the Gremyachinsk district.
Biologist Victor Sergeyevich Sluzhkin (an engagingly dour but oddly charming Konstantin Khabensky, who also won best actor at Sochi) is desperate for work, and manages to convince a local school to take him on as a geography teacher, despite knowing nothing about the subject. He can’t stand the rude students, has no money and quarrels constantly with his wife Nadya (Elena Lyadova) in their tiny flat. He loves his young daughter, but can’t bear his life.
He flirts with other women and even encourages his best friend, the bear-like Budkin (Alexander Robak) to start an affair with his wife, and finds the only way to cope with his loneliness and lack of direction by smoking and copious of amounts of drinking. Against all odds he slowly finds a way of getting along with his class (which mainly involves drinking a great deal) and foolishly promises a river trip for those who get the best grades.