Valeriia Gai Germanika: Girls (Devochki, 2005)

reviewed by Michelle Kuhn© 2007

 

Girls is a 21st-century coming-of-age film. It depicts the summer adventures of three girls encountering the rollercoaster of adolescence—though with more “downs” than “ups.” Katia, Sveta, and Sasha, pure post-Soviet, post-modern babies, blossom into “womanhood” through self-destruction. Their grown-up act entails the run-of-the-mill deviant behaviors: drinking, smoking, piercing each other’s bellybuttons, suicide contemplation, and naked carousal with boys. These girls seem determined to prove themselves by acts of masochism. Seeking to harm their bodies in every imaginable way, they essentially demonstrate how, though the manifestations have changed, the traditional notion defining (Russian) womanhood as burden—physical and otherwise—remains intact. These 21st-century girls are in the process of becoming the 19th-century hysterical woman. To put it more precisely, the girls are downright Dostoevskian. In perfectly calm, seemingly happy episodes, they burst into amazingly cruel acts and tirades against each other. In the next moment, they treat each other with perfect civility, all nastiness and inflicted wounds apparently forgotten. The film’s rollercoaster of adolescence is driven by petty demons. The character study at the core of the narrative derives the real power of its punch, however, from the fact that Katia, Sveta, and Sasha, after all, are merely girls: in the final scene, the three stand in a crowd of 6- to16-year-olds participating in the ritual festivities of the first day of school. Is the film suggesting that girls are becoming women sooner, or that these girls’ behavior is now the norm for all girls? The title seems to confirm that yes, this behavior is universal, but the meaning ultimately is left open and the film carefully avoids judging its characters.

Now for the punch line: Girls is an award-winning documentary film by a young debut director. Valeriia Gai Germanika’s Dostoevskian subjects are real people. Dostoevskii, though, is not the only one recycled in the fashioning of Germanika’s films. Conceptually at least, the film demonstrates how Dziga Vertov’s “Kino-Eye” becomes an increasingly real possibility with new media—Germanika shoots all her films on mini-dv. In the self-referential film released together with Girls, Sisters (Sestry, 2005), Germanika directly comments on filmmaking, revealing the Vertovian influence. In response to her sister’s request to turn off the camera, Germanika explains that the camera is her “mode of communication” (sposob obshcheniia). Filmmaking is a way of life.

In another sense, the film reflects an aesthetics that might be described as the “Dogme” of documentary. Though not all of the principles outlined in Dogme 95’s “Vow of Chastity” are applicable to Germanika’s film, Girls reveals a similar intrinsic stylistic logic and striving for veracity or authenticity. The dv technology, of course, permits the relatively low cost of production, but it also lends a sense of unmediated contact between the camera and the filmed subjects. The film is unpretentious and captures its subjects frankly and without the artificial “poetic” devices littering so many contemporary documentary films or attempts to conceal the traces of its making. This style is also indicative of the larger context from which Girls comes. Germanika is a member of the indie Kinoteatr.doc, a contemporary avant-garde group that supports and promotes young documentary filmmakers and is “interested in real life and cinema that relates to it.” For information on Kinoteatr.doc, see Alena Solntseva’s article featured in this issue or the group’s website, which includes a kind of manifesto of its own.

The independent Kinoteatr.doc comes as a breath of fresh air to the atmosphere long dominated by a monolithic Russian national film industry. With the use of new technologies, young filmmakers, like Germanika, are reviving experimentation and contributing to the transformation of traditional film practices. For those curious about the other sex, Boys has been released in autumn 2006.

Michelle Kuhn
University of Pittsburgh


Girls, Russia, 2005
Color, 46 minutes
Director: Valeriia Gai Germanika
Scriptwriter: Valeriia Gai Germanika
Cinematography: Valeriia Gai Germanika
Cast: Svetlana Samoilova, Ekaterina Poltavtseva, Aleksandra Shugaeva, Elena Orlova
Producer: Mikhail Sinev
Production: Kinoteatr.doc

Awards: Best Short Film, Kinotavr, 2006; Kinoteatr.doc, 2006

 

Valeriia Gai Germanika: Girls (Devochki, 2005)

reviewed by Michelle Kuhn© 2007

Updated: 07 Jan 07