Aleksandr Strizhenov: 180 and Taller (Ot 180 i vyshe), 2005

reviewed by Eva Binder © 2006

Film comedy has always attracted audiences in part by highlighting curious and bizarre shapes of the human body. That such material continues to be drawn upon is exemplified in the Russian comedy 180 and Taller. The title refers to height in centimetres, but not as one might assume to the statistically more approximate dimensions of men, but rather of women.

The plot of this comedy is actually quite simple. For Kostia, the junior administrator of a fitness club for Moscow’s nouveaux riches, having a woman at his side who is taller than 180 cm loudly symbolises his wealth and success. Furthermore, tall women are simply his central object of desire, and they fit in well with his masculine fantasies. Since Kostia himself is only 165 cm tall, he seems condemned to play the roles of a groom to a cute and caring woman, and of unwilling observer of his friend Anton’s love affairs. Needless to say, Anton is tall and attractive. Kostia, to overcome this personal difficulty and fetish, decides to date women taller than 180 cm. Taking advantage of his position at the fitness club, he phones several women clients. Yet none of them at first seem interested, since each has her own vision of the perfect man and of masculinity. Finally, however, Kostia succeeds in going out on a date with all of his dream ladies—all at the same time.

As the plot makes clear, the actor and TV-moderator Aleksandr Strizhenov, making his debut as director in this comedy, is mainly interested in light entertainment. Yet neither the director nor the scriptwriter, Iurii Korotkov, succeeds in making the comedy genuinely humorous: nothing in the dialogue or the play on words, which of course have been essential for Russian film comedies, nor on the level of slapstick or characterization offers such depth. The women are characterised by trite stylisations and hysterical displays of emotion, whereas the comedy as a whole approaches more the genre of talk shows, with alternating happy and amusing vs. problem-oriented and serious phases, than of dramatic and tightly composed film subjects.

If Strizhenov’s comedy has little to offer as far as its artistic aspects are concerned, it does have a distinctive cultural perspective. The film reveals the anxieties and constraints of a society that seems to be suffering from the domination of material symbols and polished superficiality. Accordingly, the basic point of the plot is to shatter the dreams and illusions of a spiritless and immoral society that is focused on money and outward appearances. And yet to do this, the active participation of the protagonist is essentially unnecessary: these coveted objects unmask themselves, one after the other, thereby allowing us to see the real tragedy behind each pretty woman’s façade. One plays the femme fatale, who celebrates her grand entrances at vernissages and, as we see, is beaten by her jealous husband at every possible opportunity. Another woman, a professional model and nymphomaniac with a black Mercedes, dreams of the man she fell in love with during her skiing holidays in the Caucasus. But when her ski instructor deplanes in Moscow, what she finds is a Georgian hillbilly handing her a sack of oranges. Or third, the ravishing smile of a good-looking tennis player, which conceals her tough metier as prostitute. Besides the worlds of the feather-brained model and of morally questionable wealth, we are also introduced to a young medical student, who is just about to realise her romantic girlish dreams: to give herself to her first man. But the date with the TV-star proves to be a bitter disappointment. Taking in the current political situation as well, the film provides a female Marxist and globalisation-critical activist, who firms up her body in the fitness club as preparation for the coming revolution.

This woman, who is ready to sacrifice her life for “the great idea” (a truly familiar subject in Russian films), is ultimately also the one who leads the plot out of its self-made dead end, because it is through her actions that the date, where all the women are present, blows up in the truest sense of the word. Of course, the bomb concealed in her bag is a fake. The showdown, which also celebrates the first-class job performed by Russian anti-terrorism units, brings the protagonist, who in a direct as well as figurative sense is the “ordinary small man” of post-Soviet Russia, back safely into the world of “small people,” because finally, at the police station, he meets “her”: a blonde, hard-working, and honest policewoman. She’s no knockout at first sight, but rather a woman whose sympathetic shyness can be equated with that of the protagonist—both have complex relationships with their own bodies.

The strong polarisation between wealth and beauty, on the one hand, and modesty and sincerity, on the other, accords the film a certain 1990s flair—that turbulent period of upheaval, when directors of comedy tried to save human values against intruding market capitalism. This slightly antiquated subject is all the more remarkable to the extent that the film highlights a generational transformation in Russian media business. Strizhenov (born in 1969), is the son of the well-known Soviet actor Oleg Strizhenov. In the 1990s, both Aleksandr Strizhenov and his wife, Ekaterina Strizhenova (born in 1968), who plays the role of the femme fatale in this film, became famous as a popular TV couple; since 1997 they have starred in Good Morning (Dobroe utro), Channel One’s morning information and entertainment programme. Fedor Bondarchuk (born in 1967), who plays the TV-moderator in the film, is the son of Soviet director and actor Sergei Bondarchuk, and has already distinguished himself in a variety of jobs in the media business: as a TV-moderator, as an actor in various TV series, as a producer and director of commercials and music videos, and, recently, as a successful film director, Company 9 (9 rota, 2005). Last but not least, one of the best and newest film stars, Gosha Kutsenko (born in 1967), plays the “new Russian” in Strizhenov’s film, and Evgeni Stychkin (born in 1974), a theatre and film actor, plays the lead role of Kostia. Stychkin, like Strizhenov and Bondarchuk, comes from Moscow’s intellectual and artistic milieu.

The comedy ends with a scene so saturated with kitsch that its irony is unmistakable. One is almost reminded of Komar & Melamid’s artistic project entitled the “Most Wanted Paintings,” in which statistical methods were used to generate a series of the most loved run-of-the-mill paintings, which no artist of course would ever produce and which no one would really ever want. Allowing for so much self-irony on the part of the filmmakers, however, may well be pushing it just a little too far.

Eva Binder (Universität Innsbruck)

180 and Taller, Russia, 2005
Color, 90 minutes
Director: Aleksandr Strizehnov
Screenplay: Iurii Korotkov
Cinematography: Viacheslav Lazarev
Artistic Director: Fedor Savel'ev
Cast: Evgenii Stychkin, Ekaterina Strizhenova, Ekaterina Guseva, Ivan Urgant, Gosha Kutsenko, Fedor Bondarchuk
Producers: Renat Davlet'iarov, Aleksandr Kotelevskii
Production: Gemini Film, Kinos, Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, with support from Pro-Cinema Productions

Aleksandr Strizhenov: 180 and Taller (Ot 180 i vyshe), 2005

reviewed by Eva Binder © 2006

Updated: 27 Mar 06