Thursday, 27 October 2016

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

The man from the future stills

Director:Roman Artemyev
Cast
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).

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