One is “too” sad, one is “too” hip, and one is “juuust” Siberian! That is to say, three great movies, all very different, but all “just right.” Thanks to Khanty-Mansiysk’s 10th Annual International* Film Festival, the Spirit of Fire («Дух огня»), we’ve had the privilege of seeing all sorts of independent and foreign films that would otherwise never be shown in our painfully mainstream theater.
*International in the way that Burlington is an international airport.**
**Ok slightly more international than that. (But only slightly.)
Суходол / Sukhodol / Dry Field (2011)
Directed by Alexandra Strelyanaya, starring Yana Yesipovich, Roza Khairullina, Yelena Kalenina, and Oleg Garkusha
My first impression was an unintelligent muttering of, “Wow, uh, that was grim.” …Yes, it is a dark, grim film. You’d have an easier time finding a mouse in a cat lady’s house than finding optimism in this production. It is based on a story of the same title by Ivan Bunin (feel free to read here) set in peasant Russia during the late 19th century. I felt the shots were beautiful, but overdone – the heavy gray and gray-blue overtones were excessive at best; subtlety was not part of the editor’s agenda. It felt unnatural and staged after a while. The main character suffers so much, just one tragedy after the next; it was almost suffocating. But, for all that negativity, it is a detached look at a crucial part of Russia’s history – not the history of revolution and war, but the history of the average man, and that is worth seeing. Exaggerated or not, the film makes it clear how the image of Russians as hard, stoic alcoholics came to be.
My friend, who always brings a completely unexpected perspective to every conversation, walked out of the movie chuckling. I threw him my hyper-quizzical expression and he explained himself: this movie was made by a Moscow comedy group to win film contests. It’s a recipe for how to win awards, a compilation of all the elements that judges are suckers for. …! I had (and still have) no idea of whether or not to believe him. I can rely on him to have outlandish viewpoints on everything we talk about, and I never know if anything he says has legitimacy. But, to a certain extent, I can believe him, because I also found it over-the-top.
My second friend had an entirely different opinion. When I told him I thought it was exaggerated, he convincingly argued, “Noo! That’s how it was, that’s how it really was!” I value his opinions, too, so I’m back to my middle-ground stance. Regardless, the movie is worth watching, because movies that cause such polar reactions are always worth watching (er, usually.)
Неадекватные люди / Neadekvatnye lyudi / Inadequate People (2010)
Directed by Roman Karimov, starring Ilya Lyubimov, Ingrid Olerinskaya, and Evgeniy Tsyganov.
At last – a refreshing movie without ulterior motives – no flashy entertainment, no heavy-handed moral ending, no call-to-protest, no excessive contest-winning artsy shots. Real dialogue and real people, natural reactions and reasonable conflicts made this movie a pleasure to watch. It was also just… funny! The main character, Vitaliy found gloriously subtle humor where others did not, and his conversations were blissfully ironic, often unbeknownst to the person he was having them with. The relationship between him and his younger (much younger) neighbor, Kristina, ranged from sweet to edgy, but always remained charming and funny. The characters are intelligent people who don’t want to, or maybe even can’t, live standard, step-by-step, boxed-in lives. Out of that mis-match comes a comic and true friendship between two alleged misfits, who, from their point of view, see the rest of the world as the inadequate people. (Vitaliy has defective coworkers, Kristina has defective friends) As a bonus, for those of you studying Russian and falling out of your chairs to get outside-of-classroom slang, this movie is your Golden Ticket to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of curse words, rude phrases, and stinging comebacks.
Сибирь, монамур. / Sibir, Monamur. / Siberia, Monamour.
Directed by Slava Ross, starring Pyotr Zaychenko, Mikhail Protsko, Sergey Novikov
Another heavy film to add to the cache of heavy Russian films. Pile together a few of my external hard drives, packed with downloaded Russian movies, and you’ve got a brick house that not even a wolf could blow down (and to which The Commodores would give a standing ovation) This was at the KhM Spirit of Fire Film Festival last year, too, and took the prize for the best film in its category.
It has much more hope than Sukhodol. It’s set in contemporary Russia and took the director, Slava Ross, two full years of shooting for the footage alone, due to The Siberian Wilderness’s temperament and unwillingness to cooperate. (Never was a team player, that one).
The characters are expectedly gritty and tough, but flawed. One is an alcoholic, another is too proud, a third abuses his power. However, it’s how they react to the situations they get themselves into that defines who they really are; redeeming oneself after the fact weighs more than the mistake. There are no attempts at broad, cultural statements: sometimes strangers can be trusted, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes people can change, sometimes they can’t. There is nothing extraordinary about this film, and that’s partially why I like it. But then again, the Siberian territory and the people that inhabit it are extraordinary already; to add anything to that would water down the impact.
And here’s a fantastically well-written review of this movie that makes me look like a seven year old that wrote this post in crayon while simultaneously attempting yo-yo tricks. http://russianfilm.blogspot.com/2012/02/from-despair-to-mercy-siberia-monamour.html