From Sochi to Moscow: DEBUTS, DEBUTS, DEBUTS…

The 2002 Moscow International Film Festival (21-30 June) followed the Sochi Open Russian and International Festivals (1-13 June), and, even more so than in previous years, the festivals competed with each other for the right to premiere the most promising new Russian films. Although this year’s festival season had begun on a ‘low’ with only one single Russian entry to the Cannes official selection. Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark proved controversial less because of the artistic achievement of capturing Russian history in a journey through the Hermitage filmed in one single long take, but more because of the alleged nationalistic undertones the film raises.

Outside the festival circuit Ivan Dykhovichny premiered his long-awaited new film The Copeck (Kopeika), based on a script by Vladimir Sorokin. The film was released in Moscow cinemas in June. Unlike the first cinematic version of a Sorokin script (the film Moscow), Dykhovichny’s film offers a coherent narrative provided by the journey through time with a car (the kopeika), changing its owners and thus passing through Soviet and Russian history. Yet the film is also full of visual and narrative references to Sorokin’s favourite images, making it a much more accessible film than the rather academic and sterile Moscow, and thus reaching out for a wider audience.

The Sochi Film Festival excelled with a strong competition and a most interesting debut competition, while the programme ‘Spectators’ View’ pulled in crowds from the city of Sochi but excluded the film critics – who could just not get seats on the free screenings ‘en plein air’. The main competition showed thirteen films (it was the 13th festival), which were throughout of a very good quality (unlike Russian film production in recent years). Valeri Todorovsky’s The Lover (also in the official selection at San Sebastian) and Alexei Balabanov’s War received the main awards. In the debut competition Alexei Muradov’s The Kite was a clear favourite, and duly won the main award. The film has also been invited to the Critics’ Week of the Venice Film Festival. Muradov made his debut in black- and-white in Ekaterinburg, thus far away from the established film studios. A student of Alexei German, he clearly reveals his master’s influence in his concern with realistic and truthful settings. His film tells about the life of an invalid boy whose father is a henchman at the local military prison. Inspired by a newspaper report on executions and casting a real invalid for the main part, Muradov has completed a most impressive and promising debut.

Two of the debuts presented were made by directors in the process of graduating from VGIK: Natalia Pogonicheva and Alexander Shein. Both have impressed previously with their short films: Pogonicheva with her short film How I Spent the Summer, and Shein with Morning is No Time for Girls. Pogonicheva’s full-length film Theory of Drunkenness is based on a play, and the theatricality stays with the film, which is set in two flats and relies largely on the acting. There are impressive, stunning and funny performances by Viktor Sukhorukov and Sergei Artsibashev in their roles as driver and philosopher respectively. Pogonicheva is preoccupied first and foremost with the narrative: the pilot Vitali who returns home drunk, is kicked out by his wife Sveta (Dina Korzun) and his mother in law. They seek a new husband instead while Vitali drinks with his next- door neighbour. Visually speaking Pogonicheva is quite innovative: her devices range from an animated rusalka on the brim of a glass to a horde of cockroaches invading the flat, racing across the floor. Both sequences parody the influence of alcohol under which the beautiful becomes tangible and the horrible enlarged. However, Pogonicheva relies on the same old tricks, making the comedy often predictable.

Shein moves into a different direction: he is innovative in the structure of the film narrative, which is clip like. There is no linear narrative in The Mixer, a tap that mixes hot and cold water, but figuratively also different genres and styles, from documentary and thriller to melodrama. The film’s plot is complex: Kostia returns from a hunt to find his wife Lena raped. Yet she has made this story up to test Kostia’s love. Kostia suspects his neighbour of the rape, then finds a message on the answerphone from the photographer Gleb, whom he beats in a brawl when Gleb’s male lover is bashed against the wall and – pregnant with an implanted embryo – loses their child.

In a series of mix-ups and misunderstandings the story becomes more and more confused, while Shein continues to stick with his parallel view, always making sure he follows two lines of the story simultaneously. The film’s ending grotesquely offers a ‘three years later’ epilogue in a documentary style. Shein undermines the traditional devices of flashback and epilogue, offering instead an even-handed treatment of reality and imagination, facts and dreams. Through this flowing transition between the real and the fantastic he creates an eerie atmosphere, leaving the spectator on a constantly shifting ground.

The Moscow International Festival had a good range of international contributions in the competition and could also boast with a vibrant programme of Russian films. The debut feature by Roman Prygunov Solitude of Blood was entered into the competition to represent Russian cinema. Prygunov’s stunning thriller is a cold and sterile film that betrays in many places the work of the cameraman Alexander Ilkhovsky, who filmed Moscow. Prygunov plays with the genre of a thriller and turns it at an appropriate moment into a political drama, offering a motivation for the crimes outside the psychic realm by diverting the plot to a work-related conspiracy.

The other Russian entry was Rogozhkin’s brilliant Cuckoo, while Kira Muratova’s new film Chekhov Motifs represented Ukraine. Compared to no Russian entries in the last MIFF, the quantity already speaks of the rise in Russian film production in the current festival season.

The festival also showed premieres of Philippe Yankovsky’s debut feature Moving, a most accurate picture of the lack of direction, but constant motion, of the younger generation, starring Konstantin Khabensky (a popular actor of television serials, who has recently moved from Petersburg to the Moscow Arts Theatre). Two famous ‘sons’ also premiered their second features: Egor Konchalovsky showed his new film Anti-Killer, and Ilya Khotinenko premiered Odyssey 1989. Petr Todorovsky’s new film Life is Full of Fancies was also shown in the Russian programme.