Thursday, 25 September 2014

Alexey Uchitel: Break Loose - Восьмерка (2013)

Восьмёрка (2014)

Director: Alexey Uchitel
Cast: Vilma Kutavichyute , Artur Smolyaninov , Paul Vorozhtsov 

The film tells a story about four friends who return from the army and join OMON. The story starts from the moment when they unexpectedly face some big criminal authority. The situation turns even more complicated when one of the characters falls in love with the criminal’s girlfriend. The story’s author Zakhar Prilepin points out that all the characters have real prototypes, but each of them, as it often happens, is formed of two or three people.

Восьмёрка (2014)

Grungy, witty and savage, the Russian crime thriller “Break Loose” entertains despite its ludicrously repetitive action and cliched story of the impossible love between a special forces cop and a gangster’s moll. Set in the final days of 1999 (and Boris Yeltsin), the film makes meager use of political subtext, but it doesn’t much matter given director Alexey Uchitel’s infectious love of borderline-goofy fight scenes, many of which are brilliantly choreographed. Though commercial prospects outside Russia appear limited, plenty of fests will forge ties with “Break Loose,” Uchitel’s first feature since “The Edge,” Russia’s Oscar entry from 2010.

Восьмёрка (2014)

To the extent that the film is a comedy, its running gag is the insatiable appetite for street violence among four old army buddies who now work for OMON, an elite police squad charged with curbing local protests and breaking up the scuffles of low-level thugs. Not content with the head-bashings they administer in their day jobs, fresh-faced Ger (Alexey Mantsigyn) and his pals — Lykov (Alexander Novyn), Shorokh (Pavel Vorontsov), and Grekh (Artem Bystrov) — favor looking for fights after hours as well. An early scene has the friends pummelling goons in the lobby of a bustling nightclub.

Восьмёрка (2014)

It’s at the club, owned by mob boss Boots (Artur Smolyaninov), where Ger first lays eyes on gorgeous Aglaya (Vilma Kutavichute), who’s dancing onstage. Hardly subtle, Uchitel tracks the camera slowly toward the gape-mouthed Ger to establish that he’s instantly smitten. Learning that his crush is Boots’ main squeeze doesn’t deter Ger in his efforts to bed Aglaya; if anything, it seems to turn him on even more. Climbing up a pole to a third-floor window to peep on Aglaya, Ger eventually succeeds in his lascivious aim, which naturally escalates the war between Boots’ crew and Ger’s.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Anna Melikyan: Star - Звезда (2014)

Звезда (2014)

Director: Anna Melikyan
Writers: Anna Melikyan, Andrey Migachev Cast: Tina Dalakishvili, Severija Janusauskaite, Pavel Tabakov, Andrey Smolyakov, Juozas Budraitis, Alexander Shein, Gosha Kutsenko

Awards : Best directing Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014
Best actress Severija Janushauskaite, Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014

Звезда (2014)

The lives of three people collide and fancifully intertwine, closely linking their fates. A 15-year-old teenager, misunderstood by the world; his worldly and haughty young stepmother who is capable of true feelings and genuine attachment only on the verge of death; and the debuting actress who is naturally untalented, but has a passionate love for life. This is a tragicomedy about the inscrutability of love and destiny, about the vulnerability of our existence.

In her film The Star, the director Anna Melikian not only reflects on the existential dilemmas of the three protagonists—the 15-year old teenager Kostia (Pavel Tabakov), his striking future step-mother Rita (Janušauškaite), and his love interest Masha (Dalakishvili)—but also issues a larger verdict on the hyper-materialist, superficial values of contemporary Russian society. In this society, where everything is subject to commodification, including one’s life and death, “the economic activity is barely there,” “ecology is destroyed,” and “the nuclear arsenal is ample.” Melikian maps her exposé of moral decay and thorn-ridden redemption onto the surreal, post-modern Muscovite landscape, collaged out of craggy terrain of construction sites, pristine modernist spaces of the wealthy, decrepit quarters of the poor and claustrophobic sets of decadent nightclubs. By making her protagonists confront death face-to-face against this dystopian urban background, Melikian attempts to delineate the defining terms of cultural heritage. She explores the issue through the symbolism of two opposed notions: depth and surface. In her film, cultural heritage epitomizes the sum total of meaningful, original “imprints” that individuals leave behind for posterity. Castigating the virtualized reality of the digital age, she valorizes the socio-cultural contributions of manual labor and validates the significance of intimate human touch—a vanishing phenomenon among atomized Russian citizens.

Melikian offers a story of mistaken identities that revolves around Kostia, the son of an oligarch, and Masha, an aspiring actress from the provinces. Masha attends numerous auditions where her ability to cry is valued as much as the shape of her legs. Already thin and tall, Masha wants to fit the industry-defined formula of beauty. She creates a “wish list” of physical alterations, which comprises surgery on her lips, breasts, legs, and ears. She works odd jobs to save enough money for these expensive plastic surgeries. Her corporeal transformations occur in parallel to her developing relationship with Kostia, whom she meets at a nightclub where she entertains the guests as a grotesque mermaid in an enormous water tank. Ashamed of his wealth, Kostia works as a day laborer at the nightclub instead of attending school. During her first rehearsal as mermaid, ignored by everyone else, Masha nearly drowns. Kostia witnesses Masha’s struggle and offers her his hand. The life-saving touch of his outstretched arm, bereft of materialistic motives, appears extraordinary amidst the self-absorbed, myopic society. Subsequently, Kostia introduces himself as a thief. At first slightly uncomfortable, Masha begins to accept the crumpled cash that Kostia transfers from his hands to hers.

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Yuri Bykov: The Fool - Дурак (2014)

Director: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Sergey Artsybashev, Pyotr Barancheev, Artyom Bystrov

Awards : Best Screenplay Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 
Best actor Artiom BYSTROV , Film Festival Locarno, Locarno (Switzerland), 2014

Extremely bleak and depressing even by Russian standards, the third film of writer-director Yury Bykov, The Fool (Durak), is also his best. An explosive combination of highly personal moral drama and a wider, scathing portrait of a country in which corruption and greed seem to be the only shared values left, this well-oiled narrative machine is further aided by a clever ticking-clock mechanism that actually ratchets up the tension the longer the characters’ vodka-soaked, blame-game speeches are allowed to go on. This Locarno competition title will undoubtedly be Bykov’s biggest hit to date, attracting not only scores of festival invites but also courting interest from boutique art house distributors, possibly on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bykov again wrote, directed and edited the film and also composed the music, though unlike in his second film, the 2013 Cannes Critics’ Week hit The Major, the multihyphenate doesn’t play one of the protagonists. Instead, he has cast Artem Bystrov in the lead, whose Average Joe countenance hides a startling intensity. Probably not coincidentally, Bystrov was first seen in last year’s aggressive male posturing drama Break Loose from esteemed director Alexey Uchitel, who produces here through his company Rock Films.

A Russian plumber, Dima Nikitin (Bystrov), is also a municipal repair-crew chief in an unnamed Russian town that’s not even 40 years old, though some of the city’s housing blocks are already in a grave state of disrepair. A routine burst bathroom pipe in one of the rickety communal housing buildings unearths a much larger problem, as the exterior wall behind the pipe has cracked and started to shift. When Nikitin goes outside to inspect the matter, he realizes the building has fissured from the ground right up to the ninth and last floor.

Though it’s not officially part of his district, Dima’s sense of personal responsibility gets the better of him in the middle of the night and he decides to go and talk to the higher-ups, especially after he calculates how much time is left for a construction of that height before it splits in two and crumbles — which turns out to be less than 24 hours.

The knowledge that the 800 or so inhabitants might go down with the building has Dima racing to the 50th birthday party of Nina Galaganova (Nataliya Surkova), the town’s imperious mayor, to convince her to evacuate the building. He thus bypasses his direct boss, the corrupt inspector of public housing, Federotov (Boris Nevzorov), who only supplied a coat of paint the last time he received funds for a major overhaul, preferring to funnel the money into work on his daughter's personal residence. Nina’s extended, behind-closed-doors meeting with Dima, Federotov and heads of several other departments, including the fire brigade, is the film’s nerve center and it soon becomes clear that the worst fears of Dima’s wife (Darya Moroz) about the city council’s deep-seated dishonesty and corruption are true. The feverish gathering takes place in a meeting room next to the hotel restaurant where Nina’s birthday party is still in full swing, with the thumping music filtering into the room like a severe headache that just won’t go away.

Surkova is fantastic as the orders-barking mayor who realizes that 800 potential deaths would be a disaster — if she’s blamed for it — and who has to also consider the pragmatic difficulties of moving everyone out of the critical damaged building in a city that simply doesn’t have anywhere else to put them.

As the assembled try to pass off culpability and increasingly blatant and aggressive accusations fly left and right, the fact that this city council (and, by extension, Russia’s ruling class) is rotten to the core becomes painstakingly clear, while each second the officials spend in the room adds tension due to the knowledge that hundreds of unsuspecting souls are facing a potentially lethal situation. (Bykov wisely refrains from cutting back to the building during the meeting except for a single inspection visit.)

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Cineuropa: Are you trying to represent a metaphor for Russian society in Durak (The Fool)? 

Yury Bykov: My intention is to show a model of society that is very common in the region in which I was born [Penza, in central Russia]. I grew up in an environment very similar to the one that appears in the movie and so I wanted to create the most accurate portrait possible of what I experienced. I illustrate a wealth of experience that I’ve acquired throughout my life and that I free through this story. But Russia is a very big country and I’m inclined to believe that Durak is not the full picture, even though it is most of it. Rather than denouncing the evident social disparities I sought to show how the conflict of interests portrayed in the movie develops.

In other words the story you want to tell could take place in many other countries... 

It’s a story that I believe could happen in any region of the world in which people experience social tensions, obviously by adapting it to each country’s particular reality. Many places could easily have been the setting for this story. Whether they be developping regions in Latinamerica or Africa and, in another context, in a large part of China and even the US.

You claim that you don’t feel close to modern-day Russian directors but that you do feel close to those of the past. Why? 

Because for me the most important thing is being understood and moving the viewer. Many of the current Russian directors are more focused on creating their own cinematograhpic language, on creating a particular ambiance. For me those things are formalities, elements that more related to technology than to emotions. My ambitions as an artist involve connecting with people. In that sense my references include social cinema of the 70s, Sydney Lumet and his Dog Day Afternoon (1975) or Francis Ford Coppola, and Russian cinema of the same era.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Iraklii Kvirikadze:Rasputin - Распутин (2013)

Распутин (2011)

Directors: Josée Dayan, Irakli Kvirikadze
Writer: Irakli Kvirikadze
Stars: Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Mashkov

Фанни Ардан

Rasputin, it seems, is fated to live forever. The real Grigorii Rasputin, as his assassins discovered, was hard enough to kill. But the so-called Mad Monk has enjoyed a long afterlife on the page, in musical lyrics and onscreen, serving as a malleable symbol for many decades. He has been portrayed as an evil villain, a sympathetic starets, a reincarnated helper to the Nazis (in the comic book and movie, Hellboy), and, of course, as “Russia’s greatest love machine.” The first film version of Rasputin’s life appeared within a year of his death, with silent film star Montagu Love playing him in the September 1917 Rasputin, the Black Monk. Since then, Conrad Veidt, Lionel Barrymore, Christopher Lee, Tom Baker (before his turn as Doctor Who), and Alan Rickman (just to name a handful) have all played the character onscreen. In one sense, therefore, no one should be that surprised that a heavyweight actor such as Gerard Depardieu should take a turn playing Rasputin, even if he is nearly 20 years older than the mystic was at the time of his physical death. While Depardieu sought to make his subject human again, the story of Iraklii Kvirikadze’s Rasputin has more to it than yet another reappearance of the man who cannot truly die.

Распутин (2011)

The movie mostly focuses on the First World War and Rasputin’s assassination. Kvirikadze reworked a poorly-received 2011 French television series directed by Josée Dayan and turned it into a 90-minute feature film for Russian audiences. The director declared that the original version “was like a very fat man who needs to run a marathon […] and needs to lose 40 or 50 kilograms to become lean and energetic” (Kas’ianova 2013). His Rasputin consists of a series of vignettes taken from the French series that reveal the royal family’s reliance on Rasputin’s ability to deal with the tsarevich’s hemophilia and the growing conspiracy to eliminate the so-called holy devil.

Rasputin opens with the 1918 murder of the Romanov family at the hands of Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. One of the murderers strips Empress Alexandra of her jewels and discovers a locket with Rasputin’s picture on it. The film then jumps back to a brief, obligatory scene that explains how Rasputin came to be an intimate of the last tsar and his family, an excuse for the director to include stereotypical shots of Russianness, complete with wintry Siberian landscapes, a troika, and an Orthodox Church. The action then transfers to Petersburg, where Rasputin heals Alexei and others brought to him, dances drunkenly, and, in one scene, lounges in bed with three naked women around him. Just 20 minutes into the film, the war breaks out, an event that guides the plot to its inexorable conclusion: Nicholas II’s larger family, including his cousin, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, warns him about Rasputin’s baleful influence and the rumors that are spreading in the press. Angered by this perceived influence and the threat it represents to Russia’s political system, a group of conspirators plot to get rid of Rasputin. The conspirators are led by Prince Feliks Iusupov, Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, and the monarchist politician Vladimir Purishkevich. The last 20 minutes of the film focus on the murder, which occurs in the basement of Iusupov’s palace. After Iusupov poisons and then shoots Rasputin (which does not kill him), he toasts with Dmitrii “to Russia,” only to be corrected “to Imperial Russia.” The very last scene consists of the plotters throwing Rasputin’s body into the Malaia Nevka River.

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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Russian deal for Cannes winner Leviathan

Russian drama Leviathan has secured distribution in its home country, four months after it won the Best Screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The drama, from director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky, will receive a wide release by A Company on Nov 13, in cooperation with 20th Century Fox Russia.

The film is an interpretation of the biblical story of Job, told in the context of contemporary Russia. It is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.

Leviathan marks from fourth feature from Zvyagintsev following Venice Golden Lion winner The Return (2003); Cannes best actor winner The Banishment (2007); and Elena (2011), which won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Following its world premiere at Cannes in May, Leviathan recently received its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and also screened during Telluride.

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