Director: Stanislav Govorukhin
Cast: Maksim Matveyev, Yuliya Khlynina, Vyacheslav Chepurchenko
Oh, for the return of a cinema of effervescence, and for an update of the nihilistic playfulness of the French New Wave! With its portrait of generally well-heeled, photogenic and impeccably dressed narcissists stumbling through their misadventures like characters in a Feydeau farce, Stanislav Govorukhin’s latest film Weekend seems to fit the bill for a generous serving of screen candy, finished off with a dollop of amoral froth. Certainly, the possibilities of a post-war European cinematographic sensibility in Soviet film were fleetingly explored in the expansive and vertiginous opening scene of Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying (Letiat zhuravli, 1957),with its lovers skipping along the embankment of a Seine-like river Moskva dappled in sunlight, and to the jaunty rhythms of a score by Mоisei Vainberg that suggested a cross between 1920s’ Soviet Jazz and the film music of Michel Legrand. Govorukhin’s Weekend,filmed in a luxuriant black-and-white reminiscent of the velvety texture of a Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin print, is full of shrewd misdirections, feints and skewed cinematic references that come full circle, ultimately drawing attention to the mechanics of a new Gilded Age. The action takes place in a limpidly sunlit Odessa—that proverbially most Mediterranean of cities from the former Soviet empire. The fact that the cast of characters is largely Russian, in a place located outside the borders of the Russian Federation, only serves to throw into sharper relief the occasional entrance of non-Russian (and, for that matter, non-Ukrainian) individuals into accident-driven unfurling of the film’s action.
We’ll have more to say later about the strategic foreign presence within the film, both in terms of characters and cinematic influences. First, let’s take factual note of the film’s source material, which is Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud,1958),an adaptation of Noël Calef’s novel of the same title. The basic plotlines of Govorukhin’s film coincide with Malle’s and Calef’s story of a businessman, who kills a colleague out of self-interest, and whose escape and eventual entrapment occur as the result of random events. Like the protagonist Julien Tavernier of Malle’s film, in Govorukhin’s Weekend the businessman Igor’ Lebedev tells his secretary not to disturb him in his office and perilously climbs out of his window with murder on his mind. With his alibi in place, he shimmies along the external ledge and re-enters the building through another office. Once inside the building again, he makes his way to the office of the company auditor, who intends to launch an investigation into the embezzlement of corporate funds by both Lebedev and his brother-in-law. Lebedev confronts the accountant, an elderly and avowedly incorruptible man who contemptuously rejects Lebedev’s attempt to bribe him. Lebedev uses the auditor’s own pistol to murder him, makes off with the incriminating documents, and re-enters his own office. Sitting in his car at the end of the day, and after committing what seems to be the perfect murder, he realizes that he left some of the documents in the building. As in Malle’s film, his attempt to retrieve the damning evidence after the building closes results in him being trapped in a deactivated elevator for the rest of the night. In the meantime, Lebedev’s convertible is stolen by a joy-riding hooligan called Maksim, who picks up his girlfriend and uses Lebedev’s ID to book them into a posh hotel on the Black Sea. Maksim’s botched attempt to steal money from a kind Russian-Swedish couple on the beach quickly escalates into shooting them with the gun that Lebedev already used. In the end, Lebedev is arrested and convicted on the basis of tightly circumstantial evidence surrounding the murder of the couple. Brought to his wit’s end by being rapidly abandoned by his wife and her unscrupulous, social-climbing brother Ivan (who is also the Prefect of Police in the city), Lebedev breaks down and takes full responsibility for the two murders he didn’t commit, and the one he did commit.
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