Tuesday, 12 April 2016
Iurii Grymov: The Mastermind - Коллекционер (2001)
Director: Iurii Grymov
Cast Aleksei Petrenko, Evgenii Tsyganov, Karen Badalov, Andrei Prikhod'ko, Ekaterina Volkova, Irina Mazurkevich
Iurii Grymov has been known to television audiences across Russia as the director of commercials and music videos—genres in which has developed a recognizable style and which have promoted him to media stardom. That this promotion has been consistently accompanied by condescension and sneers from traditional intellectual and artistic circles is perhaps part of the reason for Grymov's ventures into art-house theater and film production. The Mastermind comes after the short film Masculine Candor (1996) and the film adaptation of Turgenev's classic Mu-Mu (1998). Based on Levan Varazi's novella and drawing inspiration from the cerebral cinematic styles of Tarkovskii and Buñuel, the film does not hide its claims to conceptual and visual impact. In the director's own foreboding words: "On the screen you will see your own dreams shown so sincerely that you will want to strangle the person sitting next to you for having spied on them."
The action in the film takes place in the house of an eccentric collector (played by Aleksei Petrenko)—a veritable Noah's Ark, filled with the most diverse objects from the worlds of nature and human culture. Three male and three female characters find themselves there with the apparent purpose of helping the collector organize his belongings. The narrative structure of the film proceeds conceptually from this process of organization and categorization, as each narrative segment is framed with reference to a specific part of the collection. In the collector's enigmatically prophetic words, we are given to understand that the characters' task is double: as they sort out his collection, they are also "sorting out" their own lives, relationships, identities, and beliefs. Their aimless meandering through the maze of rooms and objects, interspersed with hallucinatory visions, erratic exchanges, and equally erratic actions, is meant to allegorize a search for meaning and purpose. The collection itself—arguably, the main "hero" in Grymov's film—confronts the viewer with a number of possible symbolic readings: an allegory for the seeming randomness of life? a diabolic trap for "lost souls"? another recasting of the post-modern condition? a symbolic garbage dump on the outskirts of an exhausted human civilization?
The bewildering assembly of animate and inanimate things accounts for much of the visual appeal of The Mastermind. It allows Grymov to construct abstract spaces and set up striking visual arrangements (for example, the first part of the love scene between Petr and Masha). Yet much of this appeal is undermined by the film's stubborn tendency to resolve (and dissolve) every visual composition into a semantic scheme. The viewer is constantly oppressed by the suspicion that every object or situation presented to him/her encodes a cryptic revelation. The fact that the collector's house and the movie screen are teeming with living beings and material objects (from fish and porcupines to industrial machines, from classical paintings to dildos) makes only too palpable the atmosphere of rarified abstraction. All the stuff that Grymov "collects" and arranges for us renders the air of pretentious conceptualism and symbolic profundity that much more... stuffy. Contributing to the effect is the make-up of Grymov's characters: without ever coming to life, they drift through the narrative as schematic bundles of twisted emotion and bungled philosophy. Nowhere is this make-up more exposed than in the figure of the collector: a strange amalgam of Mephistophelian and evangelical features, glued together by enigmatic behavior, portentous sermonizing, and tantalizingly pregnant equivocations.
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