Monday, 12 December 2016

Sergey Mikaelian: Love by Request - Влюблен по собственному желанию (1982)

Lovers on their own stills

Director: Sergey Mikaelyan
Writers: Sergey Mikaelyan, Aleksandr Vasinsky
Stars: Oleg Yankovskiy, Evgeniya Glushenko, Vsevolod Shilovskiy

Awards :
Best actress Yevgeniya GLUSHENKO , Berlin International Film Festival : Berlinale, Berlin (Germany), 1983
Premier prix et prix du meilleur travail des acteurs au Festival de l'Union soviétique, 1983
Prix du meilleur travail des acteurs au Festival de Berlin, 1983

Lovers of their own accord (1982)

Two people: Igor, an ex-athlete aimlessly living and chasing rubles to get drunk and Vera, an ugly duck librarian, try to find their luck by planning to fall in love with each other based on 'psychological conditioning'.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Pavel Lungin: Queen of Spades - Дама пик (2016)

Queen of Spades

Director: Pavel Lungin
Cast:Kseniya Rappoport, Ivan Yankovskiy,Igor Mirkurbanov

Opera diva Sophia Meyer after years of exile returned to Russia. The singer intends to put the "Queen of Spades" by Tchaikovsky on the stage, where he once made its debut. The play, no doubt, will be an event of the season, and all the actors posing wake up famous. About fame and money dreams of a young singer of opera troupe Andrew, and "Queen of Spades" for him the chance to achieve the desired. He is ready to do anything to get the role of Germany, and it realizes Sophia, who left for the role of the Countess. Opera diva begins a brutal game that will play all the participants involved.

An operatic thriller about the staging of an opera in contemporary Moscow, The Queen of Spades feels at times almost like a Russian-language remake of Darren Aronofsky’s lurid ballet-themed psychodrama Black Swan. Director Pavel Lungin co-wrote the screenplay with David Seidler, who earned an Oscar for The King’s Speech. They borrow their title, key characters and selective plot elements from two related sources: Alexander Pushkin’s supernatural short story, first published in 1834, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1890 opera of the same name.

Peak Lady (2016)

A film festival regular and one-time best director prize-winner in Cannes, Lungin has penned librettos for operas and orchestral pieces before. His musical passion clearly shines through during the film’s operatic sequences, which are staged with great panache and energy. Premiering this week in the main competition strand at Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, The Queen of Spades is hardly subtle, but its juicy combination of technical polish, bloodthirsty action and lusty romantic melodrama could well lure a curious niche audience globally. Its next scheduled festival stopover is next month in Macau.

After decades in self-imposed exile, legendary soprano Sofia Meyer (Kseniya Rappoport) returns to Moscow to rebuild her reputation by directing and starring in The Queen of Spades, the Tchaikovsky opera which made her famous. To help realize her grand schemes, she recruits wealthy oligarchs, shady gangsters and her grudgingly cooperative twentysomething niece Lisa (Mariya Kurdenovich). Sofia also sees potential in Lisa’s broodingly intense boyfriend Andrey (Ivan Yankovsiy), an amateur tenor who has idolized the diva all his life.

Peak Lady (2016)

Gifted with the freakish ability to shatter glass with his powerful voice ever since he was pushed into a frozen lake as a child, the obsessive Andrey slowly insinuates his way into the playing the male lead in The Queen of Spades. A Machiavellian manipulator with a heart of ice, Sofia initiates her young disciple into a glamorous late-night shadow world of illegal high-stakes casinos, where he soon develops a gambling addiction and unwisely makes Faustian deals with brutal gangland godfathers. Sofia then seduces Andrey in full view of Lisa, creating an explosive sexual tension which reaches its murderous crescendo when all three are onstage during the climactic opera scenes.

The Queen of Spades has a kind of fruity, oversaturated, borderline-camp mania that feels all too Russian at first. The opening act will test viewer endurance with its soapy emotional dynamics and broad-bush archetypes, especially Sofia, a cackling femme fatale who appears to be channeling Cruella de Vil. But Lungin is no amateur, and the torrid tone starts making more sense as the story evolves beyond realism into something more artfully stylized. Recurring flashbacks to Andrey’s nightmarish plunge into the icy lake and a scene involving the jealous Lisa smashing up a gallery of mannequins are strong visual set-pieces.

Read more >>>

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Alexey Krasovsky: Collector - Коллектор (2016)

Collector stills

Director: Alexey Krasovsky
Cast:Konstantin Khabenskiy, Polina Agureeva (voice), Valentina Lukashchuk (voice), Kseniya Buravskaya

Awards : 
Best actor Konstantin KHABENSKY , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2016 
Best Cinematography Denis FIRSTOV , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2016 
Prix du Conseil Régional de Normandie, meilleur premier film Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2016 
Prix François Chalais du meilleur scénario Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2016 

A lithe and lean one-man show, “Collector” is a crackling little high-wire act only sent tumbling to earth by its very final one-twist-too-many. Up to that point, it’s a kicky pleasure, a triumph of sharp scripting, shooting, editing, and acting over the obvious limits of time and resources. A canny first film from Russian director Alexei Krasovskiy, it was shot in one single week, almost entirely in one single location, with just one single actor, so it’s a pretty singular achievement all round. And to deliver a credible genre-inflected thriller in that mold takes not just a gapless, unflagging screenplay, but inventive camerawork and a massive central performance, to keep us all from fidgeting in our seats. But that’s exactly what Krasovskiy brings with “Collector,” a movie that makes no claims to being high art, but should be admired for its artfulness nonetheless.

'Collector' Review

And speaking of artful, our main character here is quite the dodger, a fast-talking, quick thinking, utterly amoral Muscovite debt collector, and the largely autonomous star operator in his company (“I make more money in a day than your whole department does in a month,” he snarls to his boss at one point). Artur (Konstantin Khabenskiy) is a master manipulator, a flawless liar, and apparently a heartless bastard, impervious to threats or entreaties, certain there is no sob story he hasn’t heard a million times before, and none that he has ever fully believed. Artur is not just good at his evil job, he enjoys it, relishing the inevitable capitulation of his victims as a lion does its kill.

Yet this is a subtler, more psychological method of debt collection than the old kicking doors and cracking skulls model that more readily springs to mind as the cinematic archetype. From atop a modern high-rise, in a sleekly furnished office with a plate glass window overlooking a terrace and the lights of the metropolis beyond, Artur gets even the most incorrigible creditors to cough up using no implement more threatening than a telephone receiver.

We always hear both sides of the conversation, and that, along with the conceit of assistant Liza (Polina Agureeva) and security guard Evgeny (Kirill Pletnyov) talking to him from adjacent rooms, we get the impression of a film a great deal more populous that it really is — similar to the trick that the nearest touchpoint, Steven Knight’s “Locke,” managed to pull off. And the dialogue is so crisply written and gamely performed that we get a sense of them all as people anyway. 

Read more >>>

‘Luna Park’s’ Pavel Lungin Plans ‘Esau’ Adaptation, Gulag Epic

Image result for pavel lungin

Pavel Lungin (“Taxi Blues,” “Luna Park”), one of the key filmmakers of the new Russian cinema that emerged in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is currently developing two new projects: an English-language project based on Israeli writer Meir Shalev’s 1991 novel “Esau,” and a film about a Soviet gulag labor camp.

 “Esau’s” story is about two brothers. One left Israel and lives in the U.S. and then tries to rediscover his brother.

“Since I am Jewish, this story touches me a great deal,” Lungin explained at this week’s Marrakech Film Festival, which he attended for a country tribute to Russia.

He went on: “I think that Shalev is a wonderful writer. It doesn’t make sense to set this story in Russia. The question posed by the story is can you be Jewish when you’re living outside Israel and at the same time if you go to Israel, do you become Israeli rather than Jewish.”

The second film is a high-budget project about a gulag forced labor camp during the Stalin dictatorship.

“Stalinism had certain parallels with Ivan the Terrible. I want to make a film about how people lived in the gulag, how it was possible that innocent Russians could incarcerate each other. The guards and prisoners were innocent and had to survive in terrible conditions.”

Lunging said that he doesn’t want to base the story on better known accounts such as that by Solzhenitsyn, and is currently researching real-life stories and personal memoirs.

The key issue that interests him is the force of will of the survivors: “How can you survive, how can you find a reason to live in the midst of such suffering? he asked.

He went on: “The secret of survival. The power of love. The importance of human relations. I think that despite the awful suffering of the gulag, the ability to survive also revealed something profoundly optimistic in human nature. We are not beasts.”

Lungin’s most recent movie, “Queen of Spades,” a contemporary operatic thriller based on a short story written by Alexander Pushkin, was initially developed with David Seidler, screenwriter of “The King’s Speech,” and then by Steven Walsh, since Lunging initially planned to make the film in English. The movie had its world premiere at November’s Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival where it won the Audience Prize.

The story turns on a famous soprano singer who returns to Moscow after decades in self-imposed exile, and attempts to recapture her past glory by directing and starring in the Tchaikovsky opera of the same name that once made her famous.

The depiction of a casino-style world set against a high culture setting has been interpreted by some as a metaphor for modern Russia. Lungin explained that what attracted him to the original nineteenth century short story was that it’s about someone who doesn’t believe in justice and therefore either steals or plays cards to achieve success.

This outlook was very dear to Pushkin and is now returning to Russia after a more optimistic period in the late 20th century after the fall of Communism.

“My country has changed a lot in recent years,” said Lungin. “We don’t yet understand where it’s heading. People are now much more pessimistic. The great Russian empire, before the 1917 revolution, was like our grandmother, the Soviet Union was like our mother and the new Russia is a bit like a daughter. But she’s still in her adolescence and is working out who she is. Everyone is a bit confused.”

Lungin initially made his name with “Taxi Blues” and “Luna Park,” More recently, he has directed pictures with a strong religious and metaphysical dimension, including “The Island” and “Tsar.” He also shot several episodes of TV series “Rodina,” a Russian political thriller based on Israel’s “Hatufim” – the basis for the American TV series “Homeland.”

Like any period of adolescence, Russia is caught in a highly emotional state of mind. Lungin’s early films were made in a period of great change, where there was tremendous optimism throughout the whole world, the director said, adding that he was interested to show the new movements and new types of characters that were emerging.

Now “Russia isn’t dead, there continues to be debate, but the questions are now perhaps more metaphysical, as people try to work out Russia’s identity.”

Lungin said that this led him to films that worked at a more deeper personal level, exploring more spiritual aspects, such as “The Island” and “Tsar.”

“Tsar,” about Ivan the Terrible, was a metaphor for Joseph Stalin, although some think it depicts Putin, Lungin stated.

“I was interested in exploring the mania of the strong man, the moment when someone in power sees himself as God. Some powerful figures stop at a certain point. But other powerful people have no limit,” he commented.

Lungin believes that there is a long historic tendency in Russia for rulers to become an almost godlike figure. In modern Russia, there are some groups and advisers that are trying to push Putin in this direction and make him a kind of dictator figure, Lungin contended. But he said that he believes that Putin doesn’t want that.

His recent TV series “Rotina,” like the US series “Homeland,” also deals with issues of political skullduggery, but is set in 1999, which some critics said demonstrated cowardice to address problems in Russia under Putin.

Read more >>>

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Russian war film set to open amid controversy over accuracy of events - Panfilov’s 28

Directors: Kim Druzhinin, Andrey Shalopa
Writer: Andrey Shalopa
Stars: Aleksandr Ustyugov, Aleksey Morozov, Amadu Mamadakov

A still from Panfilov’s 28

Every Soviet schoolchild was taught about the heroic feats of the last 28 members of Ivan Panfilov’s division, which in late 1941 fought to the death to stop a Nazi tank assault on Moscow in one of the best known episodes of the Soviet war effort.

“Russia is vast, but there is nowhere to retreat – Moscow is behind us,” one of the Red Army soldiers, armed at the end with just Molotov cocktails and grenades, said as the attack was halted.

But as a film about the events, Panfilov’s 28, opens in Russia this week, controversy rumbles on over the fact that many of the details of that last stand – both in the film and versions pre-dating it – appear to have been invented.

Arguments over the upcoming film and the mythology around the episode in general began last spring, when Sergei Mironenko, the director of Russia’s state archive, gave an interview stating that while there had indeed been a bloody battle outside Moscow, not was all as many had understood it.

His words provoked such outrage that over the summer the archive posted online a 1948 internal Soviet military report into the events, which came to the conclusion that a journalist from the Red Army’s newspaper had made up the particulars of the story, inventing quotes and ignoring the fact that some of the soldiers had survived and one was believed to have surrendered to the Germans.

The legend was cooked up to fit in with the Soviet demand that soldiers should fight to the death rather than surrender.

Vladimir Medinsky, the culture minister, reacted furiously to the intervention, saying it was not the job of archivists to make historical evaluations, and if Mironenko wanted to change professions, he should do so. Shortly after, Mironenko was fired.

The nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in recent weeks that he had called at a government meeting for Mironenko to be fired. He claimed his uncle had fought in Panfilov’s division and said those griping about the exact numbers were missing the point. “It’s unacceptable for someone from the archives to start telling the whole country that there were no Panfilov heroes,” he said.

Medinsky later went further in his defence of the film and his disgust for those who questioned the story.

“It’s my deep conviction that even if this story was invented from the start to the finish, even if Panfilov never existed, even if there was nothing at all, it’s a sacred legend which it’s simply impossible to besmirch. And people who try to do that are total scumbags.”

Medinsky said he would like to send such people, who “poked their dirty, greasy fingers into the history of 1941” back to the war period in a time machine and leave them in a trench to face Nazi tanks armed with just a hand grenade.

Panfilov’s division included many central Asians, and last month Putin and Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev watched the film together.

Under Putin, victory in the second world war has become the main building block of modern Russian identity, and criticism of the Red Army or mentions of the darker sides of the war effort are unwelcome.

Read more >>>

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sergey Snezhkin: Maringolds in Flower / Cvety kalenduly - Цветы календулы (1998)

movie poster

Director: Sergey Sniezhkin 
Cast:Era Ziganshina, Marina Solopchenko, Kseniya Rappoport,

Of all the national cinemas in the world, that of Russia has the most fruitful relationship with literature. This extends beyond the dull and plodding genre of the literary adaptation or the more general "book of the film" treatment to any novel whose widespread success uninspired directors want to cash in on. Russians filmmakers have managed to be inspired by literature in the artistic and spiritual sense rather than just finding a plot idea which will bring in the punters.

As such, literature is a point of departure for many Russian filmmakers and not something whose content merely can be replicated in another medium. This has produced a number of adaptations which seem to merit consideration independently of the text on which they were based, including Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1927), Andrei Tarkovsky's Soliaris (1969-72), Alexei German's Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1983) and much of Alexandr Sokurov's oeuvre.

However, the influence of literature extends far beyond using books as a direct source. Sergei Sniezhkin's Cvety kalenduly (Marigolds in Flower, 1998) is a film which takes its inspiration from the great Russian dramatist and short-story writer Anton Chekhov without its plot being directly based on any of his published works.

The action takes place in a dacha just outside St Petersburg some time shortly after the collapse of Communism. The removal of the tyrannical regime has done nothing to relieve the ills of the Protazovs and it has if anything made them worse. Georgia Protazov was a poet who collaborated heavily with the Party and in return was feted as a national hero. However, with the coming of perestroika his reputation was re-evaluated and murky truths dug up from his past. What is more, the MTV generation now has little interest in poetry and literature, least of all Protazov.

This humiliating fall from grace is too much for Protazov's widow, Seraphima, who had her heart set on a place in posterity, rather than infamy, for her husband. If that wasn't bad enough, she has to battle with her family over what to do with the inherited dacha. She wants to create a museum to her late husband, while her three bitchy granddaughters would rather sell up and move to the city for a more adventurous life.

In the midst of this set of mutually antagonistic personalities, arrive two men who offer more money to spend the night in the spare room than can possibly be refused, even if it is the night of carnival-style family celebrations for Seraphima's birthday. However, they have more in mind than just staying the night in the dacha.

Sniezhkin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mikhail Konvalchuk, certainly has the keen eye for the minutiae of human behaviour necessary to pull this kind of film off. With the action rarely extending beyond the walls of the dacha, Sniezhkin has to rope in all the attention to the details of character he can without going overboard and making his characters overly stylised. This he manages to achieve with only occasional lapses of judgement.

Not only that, Konvalchuk and Sniezhkin have attempted a brave plot which tackles both specific issues of the post-perestroika period and more timeless observations. As the production notes rightly say: "A century has passed [since Chekhov's time] and Russia hasn't changed much, despite revolutions and wars."

Read more >>>

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Tatyana Lukashevich: The Foundling - Подкидыш (1939)

Foundling stills

Director: Tatyana Lukashevich
Cast: Veronika Lebedeva, Faina Ranevskaya, Pyotr Repnin

Кадр из фильма Подкидыш, 1939 год.jpg

Little Natasha went out and got lost in a big city. Her fate was attended by all whom she met in her fascinating, full of cheerful adventure travel. Everything, of course, ended well. And while Natasha was wandering around town, she made a lot of friends, among both adults and children.

Monday, 31 October 2016

World’s oldest actor Vladimir Zeldin dies aged 101

Died Vladimir Zeldin

Vladimir Zeldin, believed to be the world’s oldest working actor, has died aged 101, after spending 71 years at the same Moscow theatre.

The Russian actor appeared on stage as recently as last month, using a walking stick due to a broken hip, to appear in the play The Dance Teacher by the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega.

He had appeared in the play more than 1,000 times, Tass reported. The theatre had planned for him to appear again next February, to mark his 102nd birthday.

According to colleagues, Zeldin had been ill and spent the last three weeks in hospital. He died in the early hours of Monday morning. 

Read more >>>

Nikolay Khomeriki: Icebreaker - Ледокол (2016)

Director: Nikolay Khomeriki
Cast: Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Puskepalis, Aleksandr Pal

The film is based on real-life events of 1985 when the icebreaker “Mikhail Somov” was caught in the Antarctic ice and drifted for 133 days in ominous silence and extreme cold. The captain had no right to make a mistake. Any wrong maneuver could bring death upon the crew and the heavy ice could squash the ship.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Roman Artemyev: The man from the future - Человек из будущего (2016)

The man from the future stills

Director:Roman Artemyev
Aleksandr Chislov, Seseg Khapsasova, Mariya Skornitskaya, Dmitry Blokhin, Ivan Dobronravov, Aleksandr Bashirov

The Man from the Future was written and directed by Roman Artem’ev, a 2003 graduate of the Film Institute VGIK, who is best known for his work as an actor in such films as Children of the Arbat (Deti Arbata, 2004) and Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Groznyi, 2009). This sci-fi comedy tells the story of a middle-aged science teacher named Merkur’ev who saves the planet from a fallen piece of the sun by building a “sun diverter.” According to Merkur’ev’s calculations the proper functioning of the invention depends on the successful impregnation of a cashier named Gulia with the “savior of mankind.” The full-length feature is an expanded version of a fifteen-minute short film called The Savior (Spasitel’, 2013), which claimed the grand prize at the Russian short-film festival “Shorter” (Koroche).

The illogical plot works well within the context of a fifteen-minute comedy of errors: Merkur’ev (Aleksandr Chislov) approaches the wrong Gulia (Seseg Khapasova) and only realizes his mistake after they “immaculately consummate.” He runs off naked into the night, presumably to earnestly summon and seduce the proper Gulia with the same absurd explanation. At the end of the film Merkur’ev gleefully returns to his first Gulia, announcing that she was the right one all along. The short version was an effective joke with good pacing and a well-timed punch line, but the same joke fails to amuse in the 75-minute version. The short film was funny because the question of Merkur’ev’s authenticity and his true intentions remained unanswered. Was he really a scientist? Was he really from the future? Was he simply a madman taking advantage of apocalyptic circumstances to live out a sexual fantasy? In the full-length film the director ruins the absurdist sketch with futile attempts to make sense of a far-fetched premise. It’s like watching one of Daniil Kharms’ “Incidents” be turned into a crime drama: Why exactly did the old women fall out of a window?

In The Man from the Future Merkur’ev is not really from the future, but tells this white lie to convince both Gulias to go along with his strange plan. After Merkur’ev gains national fame for his heroic deed his fib is exposed and the public assumes that he is a fraud. Merkuriev, too, remains unsure whether it was really his actions that re-directed the falling piece of the sun. The connection between his earth-saving invention (the sun diverter) and the need to impregnate a cashier named Gulia is not made clear. Despite the high production quality, the film has a B-movie feel. The plot makes little sense and the characters lack both dramatic depth and comedic charm. The film’s true virtue lies in the director’s parodic play with American and Soviet cinematic repertoire. With artful diligence, Artem’ev demonstrates an arsenal of eclectic cinematic knowledge.

The film is set in modern-day Moscow, but makes visual allusions to popular American sci-fi comedies. The opening scene of the film depicts a nearly empty supermarket. Eerie music plays as flickering overhead fluorescent lamps illuminate empty aisles. Gulia (who we later find out is from Bishkek and therefore is “the wrong Gulia” because according to Merkur’ev’s calculations the mother of the savior must be from Tashkent) is a cashier closing up the store on the day the world ends. Her last customers buy vodka with comical nonchalance and invite Gulia to join them. She quietly responds that she prefers to remain in the store’s basement, where she has already “prepared everything.” The ominous tone is tinged with cartoonish farce. The two men preparing for a last bender and the young cashier preparing to hide out seem resigned to their fate, unbothered by the impending doom. Apocalyptic themes and apathy are regular features of post-Soviet cinema, but Western-style optimism and the righting of wrongs outshine the few dark moments in The Man from the Future.

After the two men leave Gulia begins to close up the store. Suddenly a nude Merkuriev mysteriously appears. Startled by a noise, Gulia fearfully looks around as an empty shopping cart rolls down the aisle. This recalls the opening library scene from the American film Ghostbusters (1984). The appearance of a nude man “from the future” also recalls the first Terminator (1984). Two hapless government agents with skinny black ties in pursuit of Merkur’ev evoke similar figures from American cinema, primarily Men in Black (1997).

Read more >>>

Monday, 19 September 2016

Andrei Konchalovsky: Paradise - Рай (2016)

Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Clauß, Philippe Duquesne, Vera Voronkova, Jakob Diehl, Peter Kurth, Victor Sukhorukov, Pyotr Mikhalkov,

Paradise Rai Venice

Rarely has the word “Paradise” been superimposed across a gloomier image than in the opening credits of Andrei Konchalovsky’s new film, as the screams of a Russian woman recently arrested by Nazis echo through a dim, dank prison corridor — shot in soberest monochrome. Konchalovsky’s robust, absorbing Holocaust drama is built on such unlikely junctures of grace and despair. Centered principally on the sometimes tense, sometimes tender relationship between an aristocratic concentration camp inmate and the SS officer with whom she shares a fleeting romantic history, the film’s tone and outlook is changeable throughout — down to a striking, only semi-successful framing device of docu-style testimonies that hover deliberately between worlds. An uneasy sit cushioned by lustrous, period-evoking B&W lensing and the outstanding performances of Julia Vysotskaya and Christian Clauß, “Paradise’s” enduringly resonant historical focus should secure it the international distribution that largely eluded its veteran helmer’s previous, Venice-garlanded feature “The Postman’s White Nights.”

After “Son of Saul’s” immersive first-person camera gave viewers a visceral new point of view on the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the bar for innovation in depicting what is already a comprehensively filmed passage of history was further raised. With its self-consciously classical aesthetic — down to the imposition of artificial wear and tear on the image, creating the impression of a long-buried print — “Paradise” looks emphatically back rather than forward, but its perspective is an unusual one, alternating even-handedly between the raddled, subjective accounts of Nazi oppressor and victim, until they meet ambiguously somewhere in the middle. Among other, less earthly implications, the “paradise” of the title refers to the Aryan idyll that the former repeatedly cites as a motivating dream. Yet the longer he talks — in the bare studio environment, without clear location or era, that Konchalovsky has devised for the film’s “interview” sequences — the less clear it becomes whether or not he believes his own rhetoric.

The film opens in 1942, as refined Russian immigrant Olga (Vysotskaya), a Vogue fashion editor also serving the French Resistance in Paris, is arrested by the Gestapo for harboring two Jewish children in her apartment. Her case is assigned to French-Nazi collaborating officer Jules (Philippe Duquesne), a lecherous family man who seems willing to cut Olga a deal in return for sexual favors. When he abruptly drops out of proceedings, however, she is shipped off to an unspecified, maximum-brutality concentration camp, where she is reunited with her two young wards, but otherwise given every reason to fear the worst.

Philippe is one of only three talking heads in the film’s parallel stream of direct-to-camera statements, and his unexpectedly curtailed arc — after a generous, deliberate window into his home and work lives — initially seems a curious red herring in a film that, at 131 minutes, is confidently unhurried in reaching its narrative heart. It proves the critical key, however, to unlock the relevance and resonance of those enigmatic, after-the-fact interviews, which thereafter alternate the views of a shorn-headed Olga and Helmut (Clauß), the handsome, high-ranking SS golden boy who is assigned by Heinrich Himmler himself (Victor Sukhorukov, in an eccentric caricature) to a senior commanding position in Olga’s camp.

Olga and Helmut immediately recognize each other from a playful, several-summers-ago flirtation — itself detailed in recurring, gleamingly sunlit holiday-film footage that is excerpted in the most nostalgically bittersweet of the film’s rotating registers. As their rekindled but still anxious relationship comes to the fore in the film’s second half, “Paradise” faces an array of potentially redemptive denouements befitting its 1940s wartime-melodrama styling. None of those are exactly promised by the characters’ more detached, rueful interviews — on which the film leans perhaps a little too heavily for emotional clarity in its latter stages. Helmut’s remembrances ricochet between cynical, even critical appraisals of the Nazi ideals and deluded pride in them (“I don’t have to justify my actions; I’ve become an Übermensch”), while Olga dispassionately describes her own suffering while growing more agitated on his behalf: “He knows and appreciates Brahms and Tolstoy. Who did this to him?”

Both actors — blessed with endlessly gaze-worthy faces, in which cinematographer Alexander Simonov’s meticulous lighting keeps finding new expressive accents — are remarkable, their performances entirely complementary in their silences and guarded surges of emotion. There’s a livewire supporting turn, too, from Jakob Diehl as Helmut’s more nakedly skeptical friend and fellow officer Dietrich, restless with self-disgust and homoerotic feeling. Other performances can err on the side of shrill, while matters are not helped by the film’s distracting, frankly clumsy dubbing of actors at certain points — a retrograde detail that is unwelcome in the film’s otherwise careful evocation of golden-age cinema. 

Read more >>>

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Kirill Serebrennikov's new movie nominated for 2016 European Film Awards

Image result for kirill serebrennikov the student
The European Film Academy has announced the longlist of nominees for the prestigious European Film Awards. The only Russian film in the list was film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov's The Student, which made its debut in Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section.

The film, which takes place in a modern-day Russian city, revolves around the coming-of-age problems experienced by teenager Veniamin (played by Pyotr Skvortsov) and his relationship with teachers, peers and his single mother as he falls into Christian fundamentalism.

The picture is essentially a film version of the eponymous production at the Moscow Gogol Center (Serebrennikov is its artistic director), which premiered in early 2015. The play and the film are based on a play by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg.

"I met Marius long before the premiere performance of the play The Student in Berlin's Schaubühne Theater in 2012," Serebrennikov told RBTH. "Later, we met and I invited him to make a Russian version, moving the action and types to Russia. He kindly agreed."

According to the director, the success of the stage production inspired him to make a film version. "The topic is of concern to all – the presence of obscurantism, some bigotry and religious fanaticism in our lives that change it every day," he said.

Filming took place in Kaliningrad (about 800 miles west of Moscow) in August 2015. "It was an absolutely happy time! Everyone worked in a concerted effort," recalled Serebrennikov.

The film stars Yulia Aug and Viktoriya Isakova as well as actors from the Gogol Center Theater.

Serebrennikov's rivals at the European Film Awards 2016 include Paul Verhoeven's Elle, Stephen Frears' Florence Foster Jenkins, Pedro Almodovar's Julieta and Thomas Vinterberg's The Commune.

Read more >>>

Friday, 10 June 2016

Andrei Zaitsev: 14+ - Четырнадцать плюс (2015)

14+ (2015)

Director: Andrei Zaitsev
Screenplay: Andrei Zaitsev
Cast: Gleb Kaliuzhnyi, Ul’iana Vaskovich, Ol’ga Ozollapinia

Глеб Калюжный

Andrei Zaitsev’s feature film, 14+, opens boldly with a phantasmagoric montage of multicolored khrushchevkas, congested city streets and local trains. Aleksei Sulima’s rendition of Adriano Celentano’s classic, “Ciao Ragazzi,” blares over these images, making Moscow’s urban outskirts seem not at all depressing, but cheerful and full of hidden potential. This opening effectively establishes the film’s tone, which is nostalgic and idealistic, with hints of self-conscious irony. 14+ represents Zaitsev’s second attempt at a coming-of-age story. His previous feature, The Layabouts (Bezdel’niki, 2011), was loosely based on the life of Kino frontman Viktor Tsoi and focused on young rock stars’ experiences with love. 14+ tells the story of first love between two ordinary teens, Alesha and Vika, who come together despite belonging to rivaling schools. In this film, Zaitsev is interested in not only retelling the age-old tale of mismatched young lovers, but also commenting on how teens experience romantic love in the age of social networks. In addition, the film is about adolescent friendship and interactions between single mothers and their sons in contemporary Russia. Compared to such recent films as Emir Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons (Uroki garmonii, 2013) and Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe (Plemya, 2014), 14+ presents a relatively wholesome and optimistic view of youth, putting forward a new “positive hero.” Unfortunately, in constructing this hero, Zaitsev leans too heavily on Western adolescent-comedy tropes, producing a film that rehashes the male fantasy of a nerdy boy who gets the beautiful girl.

Ульяна Васькович

One of the interesting features of 14+ is its relationship to the earlier Russian film about a fresh-faced and awkward youth, Aleksei Balabanov’s Brother (Brat 1997). Zaitsev creates this connection in the opening credits, placing the movie poster of Brother in the background of the shot. The poster belongs to Alesha, who loves the now classic film and looks up to its anti-hero, Danila Bagrov. Like Alesha, who idolizes Danila without imitating him, Zaitsev pays homage to Balabanov’s film without appropriating its detached tone and graphic violence. Similarly to Brother, 14+ features amateur actors who turn in naturalistic performances. While Balabanov took advantage of Sergei Bodrov Jr.’s appeal as an unseasoned actor, Zaitsev went as far as to find his leading actors (Gleb Kaliuzhnyi and Ul’iana Vaskovich) through the social networking site Vkontakte. Danila and Alesha are products of similar socio-economic circumstances, despite growing up in different eras. Both are young men who lack positive father figures, but who respond to this absence in strikingly different ways. Danila, a former soldier, is a socially awkward but frighteningly competent killer with a consistent but unconventional moral framework. Alesha acts out in much more typical, non-violent ways. He is non-threatening and capable of maintaining stable friendships, as well as making new friends, despite lacking social graces. While Danila doesn’t hesitate to use force against his enemies or to approach romantic interests, Alesha obsessively ponders his choices, avoiding confrontations with bullies and with the object of his crush. The question of whether Alesha will one day become “a Danila” hangs over the film, and Zaitsev raises it in playful ways, particularly at the end of the film. However, for the most part, 14+ makes clear that Brother is the gangster fantasy of this ordinary hero and not a blueprint for his behavior.

14+ (2015)

While it is refreshing to see an incorruptible young hero in a Russian film, it is also a shame that, as a character, Alesha lacks Danila’s enigma and unpredictability. Zaitsev’s hero and story follow too many of the conventions of coming-of-age dramas and adolescent comedies. In addition to having an absent father, Alesha is also unlucky enough to grow up with an overbearing but ineffectual mother. School fails to engage him, but that is only because his teachers are out of touch, abusive or even drunk on the job. The bullies from Vika’s school threaten his safety but he earns their respect with cleverness instead of violence. Alesha even manages to bring together the nerds and the “Queen Bees,” thus proving that cool girls would rather hang out with geeks than neighborhood bullies. Those who are familiar with such American films as Can't Buy Me Love (1987, dir. Steve Rash), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, dir. Amy Heckerling) or Superbad (2007, dir. Greg Mottola), will have no trouble predicting the plot of 14+. Zaitsev incorporates the tropes made famous by these American classics into a stylish and earnest film, but does not go so far as too subvert them.

Read more >>>

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Oksana Karas: Good boy - Хороший мальчик (2016)

Good Boy (2016)

Director: Oksana Karas
Writers: Roman Kantor, Oksana Karas
 Stars: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Ieva Andrejevaite, Mikhail Efremov

"Good Boy" tells about six days from the life of the widely-read and – for his age quite self-confident – sixth-former Kolya Smirnov. The week begins with a kaleidoscope of events. First, Kolya falls in love with his teacher. Second, someone sets fire to the school's extension that houses the new computers. Third, the headmaster's daughter Ksiusha, who is in the year above Kolya, falls in love with him, having decided that it was Kolya who burnt down the school. Well, and to top it all, Kolya's dad declares the family's transition to 12/36 regime, which does not allow our protagonist to sleep and focus his mind. There are only a few days left until the Saturday school party, where all the characters of this comedy of human foibles and illusions will come together: the boy must sort out his love life, investigate arson, and figure out how to get along with his parents. Suddenly, the headmaster makes him an unexpected offer...

Friday, 3 June 2016

Ivan Tverdovsky: Zoologiya - Зоология (2016)

Director: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
Writer: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
Stars: Aleksandr Gorchilin, Masha Tokareva, Irina Chipizhenko

Middle-aged Zoo worker Natasha still lives with her mother in a small coastal town. She is stuck and it seems that life has no surprises for her until one day… she grows a tail and turns her life around.

Ivan Tverdovsky was awarded at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival for his feature debut Corrections Class, a daringly confrontational portrayal of alienation and institutionalised neglect in which a disabled girl’s efforts to integrate into Russian society meet with brutal obstacles. The film, which blended a documentary style with a flash of the magical, flagged up the director as a talent to watch. The 27-year-old is now working on new feature Zoology, which he aims to complete by the end of February and which is set to be in a similarly melded style. Tverdovsky told The Calvert Journal that the film is about a “not-so-young woman” who “finds a long tail on her body one day, and her life goes to hell”. The unexpected discovery plunges the woman, an administrator at a local zoo, into an identity crisis that also brings her up against the wounds of modern society. “It’s funny and appears to be a joke, but after the first few minutes of the film you can dip into a real drama,” the director promises. “It will be realism with a little element of fantasy.” Russia has a fine tradition of such absurdist satire, with Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog about an animal-human hybrid one of the last century’s great classics. If Zoology is even a fraction as sharp, we’re in for a treat.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Andrey Kravchuk: Viking - Викинг (2016)

Viking (2016)

Director: Andrey Kravchuk
Writers: Andrey Kravchuk, Andrey Rubanov
Stars: Anton Adasinsky, Aleksandr Armer, Vilen Babichev

Alexander Bortich

Kievan Rus, late 10th century. After the death of his father, the young Viking prince Vladimir of Novgorod is forced into exile across the frozen sea.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitry Troitsky: You I Love -Я люблю тебя (2004)

Directors: Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitry Troitsky
Stars: Damir Badmaev, Lyubov Tolkalina, Evgeniy Koryakovskiy

Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitry Troitsky are both independent artists and film makers whose films have enriched the parallel cinema with new themes. Their latest film takes place in contemporary Moscow, in the world of young and hip people working in the media. Vera, a prototype of modern times, a beauty working as a TV news presenter, meets advertising executive Tim and begins a relationship with him. They lead quite an ordinary life, until the day that Tim hits the handsome and wild Uloomji with his car and takes him home for some first aid. Before long, a strange, bisexual love triangle begins, and on the day of their first anniversary, Vera finds Tim in bed with Uloomji. The roots and traditions of the Kalmyk Uloomji (Kalmykia is an autonomous Russian Republic and the only European Buddhist nation) are reasons for additional troubles. His peasant family cannot accept the fact that he is gay and things seem to spin out of control for all of them. Though made in the traditions of the parallel cinema, the film stays a pleasant romantic comedy with a happy end. The style is young, slick and cool, the film language attractive and recognisable for a young audience.

You I Love is the official English title of this film, which in Russian is called simply I Love You. It is not clear what the authors meant to express with the transformation of the simple declarative statement of the Russian to the convoluted and ambiguous English version. This strange combination of simplicity and complexity is emblematic for the film as a whole. It has been billed as Russia’s first real example of gay cinema, but the sexual orientation per se of the characters receives relatively little attention or analysis in the course of the action. It is almost lost within a mixture of the most various themes, ideas, images, jokes, and textual and visual references that threaten to disrupt any artistic or ideological unity in the film. This is a film that ultimately doesn’t seem to know what or for whom its message really is.

The three main characters are introduced at the beginning of the film, two of them first as disembodied and anonymous voices. As the young Uloomji, an undocumented resident from the periphery of the former Soviet empire, seeks work in Moscow, we hear Timofei―the creator of television advertising campaigns―doing market research by telephone and Vera―a well-known television news caster―reporting on the growing problem of undocumented workers in the capital. While Uloomji tries to find his place in a city that does not welcome him, the viewer has an equally difficult time placing the mechanically mediated voices speaking from beyond the screen. This introduction sets up the configuration not only of the cast of characters, but also to a large extent of the larger social environment that will structure the drama to come.

Vera and Timofei soon meet and begin a relationship. One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way it aesthetically captures the lifestyle of the young cosmopolitan generation of yuppie-like denizens of a no longer post-Soviet Moscow. The glossy surface and the empty content of modern life is communicated in a relatively small set of dramatic sequences. Vera and Timofei live in a world that is completely constructed by the mass media, which they themselves produce and in which they work. This is underscored not only through a recurring series of ads marketing a western-style soft drink as the fulfillment of all human aspiration, but also in the self-conscious way film itself repeatedly frames its characters as if they are speaking lines in one of Timofei’s video clips.

In this way, You I Love is one of the most striking examples of a film that actually grapples with the new reality of 21st century urban Russia, at least with its cash-drenched new elite. Yet the film is frustratingly coy in its evaluation of this new reality. Technology and urban life give individual identity a kind of amorphous character that has never before been conceivable in Russia’s history. This fluidity of identity is neither celebrated nor mourned, but rather put on display in a way that is half play and half manipulation. Timofei’s supposed discovery of his bisexuality and his developing relationship with both Vera and Uloomji are perceived, on the one hand, as a kind of personal liberation to be sure, but he repeatedly shows himself incapable, on the other hand, of stepping out of the prison house of media images that condition the role-play through which he experiences real life. Vera, too, is at once both a true celebrity in her role as TV newscaster and a prisoner of a system that turns her physical body into a battlefield in the war for ratings.

The film’s narrative voice is likewise diffuse and indeterminate. At several points in the film, Vera’s off-screen voice weaves itself into the action to describe her feelings and small epiphanies. At times we seem to be hearing the story of Vera’s path to a kind of Buddhist enlightenment, a developing ability to see beyond the limitations of the material and social world in which humanity tries to exist. But this narrative voice is not sustained, nor is Vera the focal point for the larger storyline. For much of the action, Vera is pushed far to the sidelines and left to observe the developing relationship of the two men. But on an extradiagetic level, Vera’s subject position continues to organize the film’s point of view, even when her voice does not narrate. As she struggles to understand what is happening with the man she loves, she seems to join the viewers at a place where the inner content of Timofei’s psyche remains completely inaccessible. While we see brief manifestations of strong emotional trauma, Timofei remains very much a cipher, a person with no defined history who keeps his authentic personality tightly locked so deep in the closet that it has become inaccessible even to him. He remains a mystery to us even more: just how novel were his feelings of attraction for Uloomji? to what extent is his bisexuality a new discovery? how long was he in the West and what traces of that experience remain with him after his return to Moscow? what kind of unspoken signals pass between him and his boss in their workplace interactions? The viewer is shut out in the same way that Vera feels herself shut out as she asks helplessly “What is going on here?” Neither she nor we ever get a final answer to this question.

Read more >>>

Andrei Tarkovsky: it's time to immerse yourself in the work of a true auteur

Ivan’s Childhood is a double gateway into filmic pastures of unimaginable richness. It is the most accessible introduction to the work of Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky, whose sprawling 70s masterpieces Mirror and Stalker it prefigures in its audacious imagery and elliptical narrative technique. There’s his catalogue of images: moving water reflecting the sky, silver birch forests, cast-iron bells, religious icons, horses, apples, mud, war; the fluid, serpentine camera movements of impressive duration and sensuality; and the prodigally poetic method of storytelling, with unsignposted dream sequences and flashbacks. It stands among the greatest directorial debuts ever made.

Ivan is 12, parentless, alone in the war zone along the river Dnieper, drifting between partisan bands and regular Red Army units, offering himself as a scout. He is seeking vengeance against the Nazis who killed his family. But he is still a child and Tarkovsky never loses sight of the disjunction between the boy and the world: it is here that he finds his poetry, in childlike wonder set against horror and deprivation.

Ivan’s Childhood is also a door to one of the most fascinating backwaters of world cinema: Soviet cinema during the late 50s to mid-60s. Soviet film-makers – in Moscow and in the satellite states – seized a new kind of formal freedom. Thus Russia was suddenly making realist war movies such as The Cranes Are Flying and Ballad Of A Soldier, and not-so-realist ones like Ivan and Larisa Shepitko’s 1966 debut Wings.

After Ivan’s Childhood, the Georgian-Armenian director Sergei Parajanov was inspired to break with officially sanctioned Soviet realism and make his revolutionary tone poem Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors. In Poland, Andrzej Wajda and his protege Roman Polanski forged new paths, both dissident and surrealistic, while in Hungary, Miklós Jancsó’s My Way Home and The Round-Up embraced all things fluid and painterly. The Czech film-makers had such a good time of it that the Russians marched in and crushed them along with Dubček.

Here ended The Thaw. After the ascent of Brezhnev, all these film-makers would suffer severe problems with authorities over their next movies: Tarkovsky on Andrei Rublev, Parajanov for The Colour Of Pomegranates, Shepitko with You And I, and Wajda with pretty much everything. Polanski’s second feature was made in exile, where most of the Czechs joined him after 1968, and Tarkovsky 10 years later. But for a short, ecstatic decade, Soviet film-making set the pace for the rest of the world. Avail yourself of it.

The Guardian

Monday, 16 May 2016

Kirill Serebrennikov: The Student - Ученик (2016)

Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Cast: Petr Skvortsov, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Aleksandra Revenko, Victoria Isakova, Julia Aug, Svetlana Bragarnik, Anton Vasiliev, Irina Rudnitskaya

 Adapted from German dramatist Marius von Mayenburg’s recent play Martyr, The Student (Uchenik) represents a qualitative leap forward for Kirill Serebrennikov.

The writer-director is best known outside Russia for his 2012 Venice competition entrant Betrayal, a glacially beautiful but markedly inscrutable drama that failed to travel far beyond the festival circuit. Offshore distributors and acquisitions people are likely to look a little more favorably on The Student, which offers both a universally relevant examination of religious zealotry and, at the same time, a damning, satirical look at modern Russia, a country whose major institutions have become increasingly dominated and cowed by medieval-minded reactionaries and bigots.

Although it’s not quite in the same majestic league as compatriot Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan, which played in Cannes’ competition two years ago, this Un Certain Regard entry still nobly flies an anti-clerical flag, while also providing a taut, combustible drama.

From the start, 47-year-old Russian Serebrennikov has not been one to shy away from controversy. His first major stage production in Moscow in the early 2000s was Vassily Sigarev’s Plasticine, in which an alienated teenage boy is gang raped, a particularly shocking subject for the conservative world of Russian theater. Since then, the prolific Serebrennikov has switched back and forth between the stage, TV and film, building up an eclectic list of productions ranging from the Presnyakov Brothers’ social satire Playing the Victim (both the original theater version and the film adaptation), the deeply evocative film Yuri’s Day, and boldly adapted classics by the likes of Maxim Gorky, Bertolt Brecht and Mikhail Bulgakov on stage, and Anton Chekhov for film and TV (Ragin, among others).

As varied as that resume looks, it’s possible to see recurrent themes and interests: madness, twisted sexual desire, state repression, fractured families with a special emphasis on the implosive relationship between mothers and sons. All of that comes neatly together The Student, for which Serebrennikov takes the screenplay credit even while acknowledging its basis in von Mayenburg’s original. (Serebrennikov previously adapted the play for his theater company in Moscow, and some of the actors here performed in the original production.)

The narrative starts out in the realm of unfussy realism and grows blacker, richer and more surreal. For reasons that remain until the end teasingly unexplained, high-school student Veniamin (Petr Skvortsov, well cast with a crazed believer’s shining eyes and low brow) has developed an addictive relationship with the Holy Scriptures, obsessively reading and re-reading the Bible, which he interprets with a fundamentalist literalness.

The Student Cannes Film Festival

As if to prove that he’s not making any of this up, Serebrennikov “footnotes” every Biblical quotation Veniamin spouts with onscreen text citing (in Roman script) each quote’s book, chapter and verse. The references range across both the Old and New Testaments, but Veniamin shows a particular preference for Luke and later on, that exhaustive compendium of dos and don’ts, Leviticus. And so his holy war starts with his refusal to undress for swimming lesson. His mother (Julia Aug, a fine study in maternal exhaustion) at first wonders if he’s embarrassed about involuntary erections, and then worries he’s on drugs. But Veniamin is high on Jesus, or what the Communists called only a generation ago, the opiate of the people.

Times have indeed changed. Instead of putting the youth in psychiatric care like they would back in the good old days of the Soviet Union, the school authorities acquiesce to his hectoring and start changing school policy, insisting that the girls must wear one-piece swimsuits instead of bikinis, and entertaining the idea that creationism should be taught alongside the theory of evolution in biology class. Only school science teacher Elena Lvovna (Victoria Isakova, The Island) objects to this theological bullying, but in order to arm herself with logical arguments she herself starts to disappear down a rabbit hole of compulsive Biblical research and mounting hysteria and fear.

The film makes it clear Elena has every reason to be scared as Veniamin’s venom turns nastier, calling up Biblical quotes to buttress anti-Semitism and homophobia. Serebrennikov’s adaptation has beefed up the role of the local cleric, Father Vselod (Nikolai Roshin), turning him from a Catholic into an Orthodox priest seemingly on staff at the school who’s initially supportive of Venya’s embrace of religion, as long as he can control the theological interpretation. There’s no missing the critique here of how much the Orthodox Church now permeates every institution in Russia.

Lest the narrative turn into an overly didactic compare-and-contrast of ideologies, the screenplay adeptly adds drama via subplots involving Venya’s attraction to a pretty fellow (Aleksandra Revenko) and another fellow student, Grigoriy, (Aleksandr Gorchilin, who played Veniamin on stage), with a physical handicap who is attracted to Venya. Serebrennikov says in the press notes, perhaps a little disingenuously, that his preference for long takes results from laziness, in the sense that he’d prefer to rehearse the actors enough that one shot instead of several gets everything he needs. The fact that Serebrennikov recently mounted a stage adaption of Lars Von Trier’s Dogme 95 film The Idiots would suggest the long-take strategy has more to do with aesthetics and realism rather than expediency. Either way, his cast of experienced players repay him with line-perfect readings and high-energy performances that evoke, in a good way, the stage origins of the material.

Likewise, DoP Vladislav Opelyants’s lighting throws up stagey pools of illumination in some interiors, but the handheld operation dances gracefully with the performers, especially when the arguments reach fever pitch. The use of Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast as a location allows the production to make use of the bizarre broken concrete defensive fortifications on the shore, suggestive of the collapsed remains of a lost empire, which in a way they are. Ilya Demutsky’s orchestral score adds a certain Romantic-influenced tragic, heft. (Serebrennikov had to abandon a biopic of Tchaikovsky because the funding bodies allegedly didn’t want him show the subject was gay). The score forms a fine contrast with the song over the closing credits, the deliciously stupid and tautologously titled “God Is God” by Slovenian metal rockers Laibach. 

Read more >>>

Kirill Serebrennikov's study of a problem teenager's religious awakening is as aesthetically kinetic as it is intellectually rigorous.

There was a time when scores of defiant adolescents asserted intellectual independence from their parents by turning their backs on religion. In this more agnostic age, picking up the Bible can be just as startling an act of rebellion in many households. So it proves in Kirill Serebrennikov’s splendid “The Student,” a stormy, swoon-inducingly shot bout of Russian moral wrestling that hits as hard and as heavily as a nastoyka hangover. Though Serebrennikov clearly takes a side in this rhetorical battle between an aggressively Christianized high-schooler and his liberal, Jewish-born biology teacher, this is a welcome study of religious fanaticism that doesn’t discredit either party’s intelligence, and knows its oats either way: Viewers who are either unfamiliar with or estranged from the Good Book should prepare themselves for a veritable tsunami of scripture, rigorously extracted and reassembled as riveting spiritual debate.

If that sounds a tough sell, it probably is: The fevered verbal tone and vertiginous formal activity of Serebrennikov’s films gives them narrower international appeal than, say, those of his compatriot Andrey Zvyagintsev, though they’re comparable in heft and gravity. Still, there’s an of-the-moment urgency to “The Student’s” unexpected generational face-off that should draw broader arthouse interest than Serebrennikov’s 2012 Venice competition entry “Betrayal” — a heated, dazzlingly mounted romantic tragedy that sadly never caught fire beyond the festival circuit. At a time when arguments over educational “safe spaces” and belief-based “micro-aggressions” are prominent in the media, this wildly escalating classroom drama — based on a stage work by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg — serves as a frightening cautionary tale. Whether it ultimately comes down for or against unqualified free speech, however, is one of many potential topics of post-screening conversation.

Read more >>>