Nikolai Dostal': Kolia Rolling in the Fields (Kolia—perekati pole, 2005)

reviewed by Christine Engel© 2006


Nikolai Dostal'’s Kolia Rolling in the Fields takes up the thread of one of the very last films of the old Soviet Union, Dostal'’s own Cloud Paradise (Oblako—rai, 1991), to which it is a kind of sequel. The film uses the same actors in the same roles and Georgii Nikolaev has once again written the screenplay. The setting, too, is the same Russian provincial town as in the first film, with the same prefabricated housing estates and typical interior decoration, and also with the boredom and lack of perspective that characterized the first film. The fourteen years that passed between the two films—a time in which the Soviet Union again became Russia and in which conditions have changed profoundly—do not seem to have left any imprint on Kolia Rolling in the Fields. Time in Cloud Paradise, a chamber (tragi-)comedy set at the end of perestoika, was leaden, in a continuous standstill, and the second film resumes this theme by employing the same cinematic techniques. Thus, the two films are interlinked to such an extent that they are actually inseparable.

In Cloud Paradise, Kolia, a boy with the sad face of a clown, announces out of the blue that he intends to go away, pretending that he has an invitation from a friend to go to the Far East. Kolia’s neighbors and friends in the town immediately take up the idea, which grants them a vicarious perspective and meaning, and gives them an opportunity to reel off the whole gamut of Russian proverbial wisdoms, rituals, and clichés. Against his will, Kolia becomes their hero, but at the same time is pushed out of their community with abundant affectionate friendliness. Before he realizes what is happening, his furniture has been sold, his belongings have been distributed among others, and his suitcase has been packed. Accompanied by a merry crowd, a dejected Kolia is put on a bus, which disappears with him as the only passenger into an undetermined nowhere.

Kolia Rolling in the Fields brings the protagonist back to the provincial town one winter day, unannounced and without any warning. His friends and former neighbors receive him enthusiastically with plenty of vodka, but their real intention is to get rid of him again as soon as possible. They do not want him back in their former symbiotic community because he might well disturb the familial happiness of his former girlfriend, who is married now and has two children (with Kolia—unknowingly—being the father of the older son). Kolia once again gives in to the collective pressure, this time inventing an ominous disease that makes his departure necessary. He just has enough time to distribute the carload of presents he has brought with him, his baseball cap changes hands, and his car and his cash find new owners. The fireworks he has brought with him explode in the chimney of an apartment building, and Kolia disappears again into the same undetermined nowhere.

The sequel is not without its problems. This time Kolia is squeezed out of the community not by the automatic reeling off of behavior models, but by the deliberate plotting of the people concerned. In addition, the film interjects a series of moral categories, which, in no time, transform the tragic-comedy into a drama of everyday life, or rather into something in-between. Because of this shift from the social to the moral, the specific devices of comedy are not really able to produce comic effects. Humor in both films tries to make use of the techniques of the eccentric comedy of the 1920s: juxtaposing pairs of twins or couples of contrasting height; putting a prominent focus on objects, especially the central role of the suitcase (one of the most important accessories of the eccentric comedy). In his facial expressions and his body language—his grimaces and gestures—Kolia, as a clown-esque figure, changes from a merry clown to a sad one.

But it is not only the deliberate plotting of the residents and the introduction of moral categories that counteract the film’s attempt to achieve comic effect. Equally important in undermining the comic aspects of the film is the director’s decision to make the standstill of time the central theme, a theme that was already obvious (but not central) in Cloud Paradise. The eccentric comedy of the 1920s, however, is characterized by fast-paced action and concrete targets, such as bureaucracy, and clear-cut negative figures, such as capitalists. By contrast, Dostal' slows down the pace of the action in both of the films and, by moving the focus to the absence of the flow of time in Kolia, he is forced to deal with a rather abstract topic. Thus, whereas the film provides an anthropological diagnosis that people always stay the same, the contemporary framework reduces its message to the slogan that consumerism keeps growing.

The reaction of Russian audiences to the film has been diverse. At least some youthful audiences have been unable to make head or tail of it; for them it is too old-fashioned (see, for example, the viewer responses). Indeed, everything in the film is predictable: the apartments and interiors of the prefab housing projects dating from the Khrushchev era, the dialogs, Kolia’s grimaces and gyrations, and—last but not least—the camera work itself. Older audiences, those in their fifties, however, seem to have relished specifically this kind of predictability, finding pleasure in the nostalgic possibility of identification. Several reviewers―like Natal'ia Sirivlia―have seen the film as an attempt to create something genuinely Russian in opposition to the global spread of Hollywood’s film aesthetics.[1] At the same time, however, they have remained uncertain as to whether the film achieved its goal. Thus, reviews of the film have been low-key in general and rather detached. [2] Nevertheless, the film was awarded the main prize, “The Golden Boat” (Zolotaia lad'ia), at the Window to Europe Festival in Vyborg.

Christine Engel
University of Innsbruck


Notes

1] Natal'ia Sirivlia, “Vozvrashchenie Odisseia,” Iskusstvo kino 11 (2005): 51-55. See also the viewer responses at Live Journal.

2] See, for example, Iurii Bogomolov, “Sovetskii Soiuz, kotoryi nas poterial,” Newspo.ru (24 August 2005).


Kolia Rolling in the Fields, Russia, 2005
Color, 97 minutes
Director: Nikolai Dostal'
Screenplay: Georgii Nikolaev and Nikolai Dostal'
Cinematography: Iurii Nevskii
Art director: Vladimir Iarin
Composer: Aleksei Shchelygin
Songwriter: Andrei Zhigalov
Sound: Dmitrii Nazarov
Cast: Andrei Zhigalov, Alla Kliuka, Sergei Batalov, Vladimir Tolokonnikov, Irina Rozanova
Producer: Fedor Popov
Production: “Stella Studio” with support from the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema

Nikolai Dostal': Kolia Rolling in the Fields (Kolia—perekati pole, 2005)

reviewed by Christine Engel© 2006

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