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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Film Review
Vladimir Kozlov

Kinotavr Film Festival

inotavr, Russia’s main domestic film festival, which took place in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi for the 19th time from June 7 to 15, largely reflected — just as organizers hoped it would — the situation in the domestic film industry.

First, the gap between the commercial and non-commercial cinema is becoming wider. More precisely speaking, it is less a gap than two parallel worlds of film production. Commercial movies like the comedy Samy Luchshy Film [The Best Movie Ever] easily draws crowds to theaters, while non-mainstream films have a hard time finding domestic theatrical distribution. Even though Kinotavr tries to embrace the entire spectrum of films made in Russia — the inclusion of the $10 million Novaya Zemlya [Terra Nova], a dystopian action film set in 2013, testifies to this — the majority of the festival’s main selections fall into the “art house” category. Of these, only Oksana Bychkova’s Plyus Odin [Plus One] has any prospects of doing well at the box office, many observers say.

And there is nothing terribly wrong with that. Even in countries that have the most advanced film industries, some movies are made for mass audiences while others are intended primarily for festival goers and cinephiles. So if that’s how the Russian industry breaks, it’s perfectly fine.

Of greater concern is the quality of the movies at this year’s Kinotavr, which — as the organizers tout — are supposed to be the best films made in Russia. A look at the some of the prize-winning films in Sochi, then, will give a sense of the state of the best the industry has to offer.

Somewhat surprisingly, the main prize went to a film by a first-time feature director. Shultes, written and directed by Bakur Bakuradze, is a slow-paced crime drama about Lyosha Shultes, a twenty-something Muscovite who works as a track coach and moonlights as a smalltime pickpocket. Gradually, the audience learns Shultes suffers from memory loss as a result of a car accident years earlier. Unfortunately, this revelation simply serves to muddle the story. After all, life in contemporary Moscow offers enough to confuse and disorient a character whose memory is intact. So, the viewer never knows what to attribute Shultes’ difficulties to — the amnesia or what we all know is just part of existence in the Russian capital. Still, this movie conforms to the current European arthouse trends, and as such it has received some international exposure: It premiered at Cannes in May.

More dynamic and controversial is Yuriev Den [Yuriev Day] by Kirill Serebrennikov, who won Kinotavr’s best director prize two years ago for his film Izobrazhaya Zhertvu [Playing the Victim]. Yuriev Den tells the story of prosperous Moscow opera diva Lyubov (Kseniya Rappoport), who returns with her adult son to her hometown about 200 kilometers from the capital to say a symbolic goodbye to her birthplace before moving to Germany. The film shocks the audience with its graphic depiction of squalor, poverty, and degradation in the small town, and it probably deserved more than recognition than just the best actress award to Rappoport.

These two films are among the few that take on the subject of contemporary reality, seeking to analyze and explain it. Most others — deliberately or not — avoid this endeavor entirely. And this fact, many at Kinotavr agreed, is one of the most acute problems facing current domestic cinema. Vladimir Kozlov

Moscow International Film Festival

or quite a few years now, the Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) has been said to be “in transition” and “in the search of an identity.” These comments apply to the most recent fest, which took place from June 19 to 28.

Although technically MIFF is considered to be an A-level festival, formally putting it in the same league as, say, Venice or Cannes, there is still a long way to go before the Moscow festival finds its niche on today’s international film festival arena and earns a positive reputation.

Its heyday was during the Perestroika years, when, riding the wave of international interest in everything Soviet, it became an important film event for a few years. Today, however, it is an average festival that cannot even successfully compete for the status of Eastern and Central Europe’s main fest, losing that title to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic. Many of the best-known directors — even those from Eastern and Central Europe — prefer to send their movies elsewhere, making the MIFF’s main selection look dull.

This was true in Moscow this year, where the main selections included a few good films and some mediocre stuff, but nothing really striking or provocative that might have sparked debate about which film would walk away with the main prize, the Golden St. George. The only question that lent the festival a little excitement was whether the trend of awarding one or more of its main prizes to a Russian entry would continue this year.

It didn’t, which is probably good as many people in recent years were dissatisfied to see mediocre domestic movies awarded MIFF’s main prizes. This time around, the jury, headed by Swedish actress and director Liv Ullmann, elected to award the Golden St. George to Be Hamin Sadegi [As Simple as That] by Iranian director Reza Mir Karimi, a simple story about a day in the life of an Iranian housewife.

While the latter choice may be debatable, the best director prize went to what was indisputably one of the most interesting and well-made movies at the festival, Zift, by Bulgarian first-time feature director Javor Gardev. The black-and-white criminal comedy/drama is a funny and imaginative mixture of neo-noir and Sots Art that tells the story of a small-time criminal released from prison into the new world of late 1950s totalitarian Sofia.

The best actor prize went to American Richard Jenkins for his role in Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor, a movie about the unlikely friendship between a college professor from suburban Connecticut and a couple of illegal immigrants.

Italian actress Margherita Buy collected the best actress award for her performance in Giornie Nuvole [Days and Clouds] by Silvio Soldini, the story of a woman facing a crisis after her businessman husband goes broke.

The only Russian film to win a prize was Katya Shagalova’s Odnazhdy v provintsii [Once Upon a Time in the Provinces],” which was recognized by the international film critics association, FIPRESSI.

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