Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Dmitriy Dyachenko: What Men Talk About - О чем говорят мужчины (2010)
Director: Dmitriy Dyachenko
Cast: Leonid Barats, Aleksandr Demidov, Kamil Larin
Judging from the raving Russian internet forums, reviews, and box office results, Dmitrii D’iachenko’s recent comedy What Men Talk About appears to have gained the love and following of wide audiences. Worn out from primitive slapstick comedies, compulsory nudity, and smutty “below-the-belt” jokes, contemporary Russian moviegoers readily appreciated the film’s gentle quality humor, reminiscent of the extraordinarily popular comedies of El’dar Riazanov from the Soviet era and free from hackneyed clichés populating the comedy genre nowadays.
D’iachenko is not new to entertainment, and since the mid-1990s has been demonstrating his skill for combining commercial viability with artistic creativity. He is mostly known for his work on television and in theater, having directed five hip film series in various genres, several documentaries (some of which were included in theater plays), more than 40 commercials and 30 corporate events. After his debut with the fairly popular Day of Radio (Den’ Radio, 2008), What Men Talk About  became D’iachenko second collaborative feature-film project with “Quartet ‘I’” – a well-known and one of the funniest theater groups in Moscow for the past seventeen years. Its play Conversations of middle-aged men about women, cinema and aluminum forks (Razgovory muzhchin srednego vozrasta o zhenshchinakh, kino i aliuminievykh vilkakh) which, since its premiere in 2008, has enjoyed immense success, is at the heart of D’iachenko’s cinematic adaptation. “Conversations”–marketed by “Quartet ‘I’” as sharing a kindred spirit relationship with the Evgenii Grishkovets theater–has been praised for its “male sincerity” that audiences can identify with, self-reflexive humor, and lack of pathos and edification (Nechaev, 2010). D’iachenko’s decision to adapt an already successful stage play in times of economic decline is a fairly obvious and safe financial bet that paid off: filmed on a budget of $1.9 million, What Men Talk About earned $11.4 million in the box office first week, outshining Nikita Mikhalkov’s infamous $55-million Burnt by the Sun-2.
Part of the film’s success, in my opinion, is that in translating a dramatic text into film, D’iachenko does not lose the essence of the original play, privileging the aesthetic of theater over the aesthetic of film. He clearly emphasizes the primacy of the dialogue and acting–with the hilarious quad chatting away (mostly about women, in a lighthearted rather than sexist way), joking and imagining fantastic scenarios. The director’s choice fell on bare-bones cinematic language, which he describes as “unusually laconic for contemporary Russian film” (D’iachenko, 2009). Interestingly, the car scenes, which take up half of the film, also worked towards preserving theatrical values and creating favorable, stage-like conditions for the actors. An economical technological solution was found: according to D’iachenko, the technique was borrowed from Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006). In order to shoot inside the car, a robotic digital camera–the first in Russia–was constructed by the camera man and inventor Sergei Astakhov, and operated by Iurii Liubshin. The crew mounted the camera on a rig above the vehicle with the roof taken off. The car did not move, but actually stood on a platform in a tent-like construction, which allowed the use of studio lighting, thus creating a space not much different from the play’s set.
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