Dmitri Meskhiev’s “Mechanical Suite”

Dmitri Meskhiev’s work over the last years has been quite uneven: from the experimental work in his adaptation of Mariengof’s Cynics (1991), his poetic exploration of loneliness in Over Dark Waters (1993) and his short film in Arrival of a Train, entitled “Exercise No. 5” (1995), he chose to move on to more commercial projects. In 1998 he released two films: A Women’s Property, produced by the company “Slovo” (in a project that intended to encourage young directors to work on commercially viable projects rather than indulge in experiments that would never reach an audience, as had partly been the case with Meskhiev’s earlier films); and The American Bet, a film produced by Lenfilm about the youth of the 1970s. With this latest film Meskhiev returns to serious film-making and non-commercial structures.

The plot offers many points of comparison to Muratova’s Minor People: a dead body needs to be disposed of, only that here it is a dead body as opposed one that turns out to be still alive.

Two men are sent to a remote village to collect the body of their colleague who died there, and bring it back to the city so it can be buried properly. Since the proper transportation of a dead body would exceed the funds available, the two men have to find a way out: they dress the body and take it onto the train with them, pretending they are lagging with them a drunken friend – not too far-fetched a scenario in a Russian setting. While they leave the compartment, a fellow passenger enters: he causes the body to fall from the top bunk bed and, thinking he has killed the man, throws the body out of the window. From the track the body is taken back to the morgue, where the two men go in the company of their fellow-traveller and pseudo-murderer.

The filmmaker now clearly has to avoid repetition of the events, and here Meskhiev loses the thread of his narrative for most of the second half of the film: he pursues the adventures of the two men in connection with a case full of money carried by the fellow passenger: he is a courier for the mafia, now late with his delivery. The ensuing hunt by some mafiosi gangsters — with the corresponding degree of brutality to go with it – does not add great value to the film. Rather, it seems that Meskhiev briefly slips back to the devices he learnt and employed for his more commercial films.

However, Meskhiev balances his film nicely the comic and the tragic, exploiting those situations with the dead body that offer themselves for slapstick comedy, whilst never losing side of the underlying tragedy: the poverty which leads to this humiliating way of transporting the body in the first place.