Rezo Gigineishvili: The Heat (Zhara, 2006)

reviewed by Christine Engel© 2007

Let us think back to the time of the Thaw, to the so-called “young prose-fiction” of Vasilii Aksenov or Anatolii Kuznetsov, and most importantly, to Georgii Daneliia's film Meet Me in Moscow (Ia shagaiu po Moskve, 1963). It was a period of (limited) social awakenings and change, which also found its expression in the artistic figurations of the time, whose goal was to create a distance from the monolithic and monumental gestures of Stalinist culture. The workplace had exhausted itself as a setting, as had the well-accepted figures of party functionaries. The backdrop of the factory was replaced by journeys to distant areas of the Soviet Union, either to the country's east or to its Baltic regions, and also by explorations of urban life, journeys through the other Moscow—a Moscow of nightlife, free time, flâneurism, and petty crooks—focusing on the personal sensations and experiences of adolescent protagonists who had “not yet found their ideological footing” and made little effort to follow the career path intended for them, (at least temporarily) seeing life as a game.

Daneliia's film was a swan song to the Thaw, and soon became a cinematographic paragon for the attitude and zeitgeist of the shestidesiatnik (Sixties) generation. The film's characters, such as young Kolia (played by Nikita Mikhalkov in his first major role), Volodia, Sasha, and Alena, were as young as the actors who played them; with them, a new generation of actors flooded into the Soviet film industry. Easy-going and curious, this new generation was not oriented toward the past but toward the future, mastering new situations and setbacks with irony and wit.

The temporal organization of the film's narrative accentuates the momentary, the short-lived, the ephemeral, and the fragmentary. It shows no more than a single day in the life of its protagonists, in which contingency (and not state planning) sits in the director's chair. The film is set in the myth-loaded space of the Soviet capital. Yet the historical sites that characterize collective memory are little more than a backdrop for modern life. What really matters is the modern (desirable) face of the city: under construction; the city is alive with traffic, shops, cafés, and parks. [1] Cameraman Vadim Iusov succeeds in conveying the dynamism of the modern city, as well as the atmosphere of the time; drawing upon cinematic devices inspired by Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparatom, 1929), he constructs the city itself as the film's overarching protagonist.

The Heat by Rezo Gigineishvili is a transposition of Daniliia's film into contemporary Moscow, a place ascribed a similarly tempestuous atmosphere of change as the modern Moscow of the 1960s. It is more than obvious that Daneliia is Gigineishvili's most important model, or in his own words, his “idol” (“Slovo”). Even the new film's title is an allusion to the summer thunderstorm in the song “ A ia idu, shagaiu po Moskve ” that Kolia performs in Daneliia's film, and which went on to become a popular hit. Gigineishvili not only transposes the 24-hour time frame and the leading characters, but orients himself toward his predecessor on the micro-level: the themes of the faithless bride, the affable police, time spent in jail, and the mass chase scene are all taken over intact. Even the dog that tears one of the protagonists' trousers turns up in the new film and the taxi driver is installed as a running gag, as well as the foreign tourist. The list of transposed characters can be extended ad infinitum. However, they are no longer teens standing at the crossroads of life after their high school graduation. Instead, they are now in their twenties, trying to find their way in professional life, albeit with little success. Aleksei has served in the navy; Konstantin, the son of a nouveau riche businessman, never quite completed his university education abroad; while Artur, who has studied to be an actor, has a hard time finding any permanent engagement.

The film's leading characters all have the same first names as the actors who play them. This indicates that the atmosphere of exuberance is not limited to the movie, but extends to real life. Here, “friendship” is the key word that connects life and film: having met while working on Company 9 (Deviataia rota; dir. Fedor Bondarchuk, 2005), the whole crew reunited to make The Heat. For those involved, this may well have been a lot of fun, but it also leaves an unpleasant aftertaste; it seems that there is an in-group hard at work to give cameos to as many of its useful friends and acquaintances as possible. It is no coincidence that Rynska's review says that one could write a dissertation about the film, calling it “High Society Life in Moscow at the Start of the Century: Clans and People of Influence.” Klingenberg concurs and notes that the film has less to do with Moscow than with the clan “Fedor Bondarchuk and Co.” Exler (also in the film review) describes this kind of recruiting with the cutting Russian expression mezhdusoboinik (“private party”).

For the film itself, this means that in comparison to Meet Me in Moscow, the new film needs to add a slew of new characters. This is not so hard to do in episodic roles: for example, Fedor Bondarchuk's wife appears as a saleswoman in a boutique; the director Tigran Keosaian plays a florist; and even the producer, Fedor Bondarchuk, makes a brief appearance as an art house film director. For Gigineishvili's wife, Anastasiia Kochetkova, whose artistic career began when she competed in the casting show Star Factory (Fabrika zvezd), an additional leading role needed to be invented: she plays the “girl with the camera” who captures all the strange events that her friends encounter, thus contributing to the film's happy end.

Nowadays a film's PR campaign obviously needs a star as its poster boy, so the rapper Timati joins the fun, becoming the fourth person in a group of friends from school. If Daneliia's film featured Volodia's wedding as a key vanishing point for the narrative, now it is Timati's concert that needs to happen, come what may. In terms of PR, the rap star clearly has the additional task of compensating for Gigineishvili's relative obscurity. The Heat is, in fact, the first feature film that Gigineishvili has directed alone (he was assistant director in Company 9 and had the chance to gather more experience in directing the TV series 9 Months [2006]).

Last but not least, a role had to be found for Deni Dadaev, a friend of Gigineishvili. He plays a noble crook who spins an intrigue that is hard to follow on the narrative level, eventually ending up in jail as a double-crossed double-crosser. Deni's character is reminiscent of Ostap Bender from Il'ia I'lf and Evgenii Petrov's The Golden Calf (1931). Just to make sure that the audience understands this reference, the book itself features in a prominent shot. While Daneliia limited himself to making references to Gogol', the new inter-textual reference reminds the audience of the NEP, yet another time of change, a time that inevitably draws an association with money in its wake. Money plays an important role in the film's storyline: after an extended separation, the four friends from school meet in a street café. When it is time to pay the bill, it turns out that three of them don't have any money at all, while Kostia, as the son of rich parents, only has dollars in large bills. Since the café's owner refuses to accept foreign currency, Kostia's three friends set out one after another to change some money while Kostia waits for them to come back in vain for hours.

This would not be a truly Russian film, however, if it did not want to express the “really important values” in life, saying, among other things, that money alone cannot buy happiness. To convey this message, the film draws upon the fairytale motif of the bypassed helper: intent on changing money, all three protagonists ignore the florist next to the currency exchange, which leads to fairytale complications, obstacles, and confusions. Timati is chased by skinheads and can only be freed from his predicament through complicating narrative moves. Artur, the actor, comes very close to fulfilling his life dream, but only close: though he is hired as an extra in an art house production, he mistakenly gets on the wrong bus and ends up with a brigade of migrant construction workers on their way to the Hotel Rossiia, currently under demolition (incidentally, this is one of the few scenes in the film that really works). Only for Aleksei is all well in the end: after he finally gives Nastia a flower, they can fall into one another's arms at the end of the day, even though they have just met.

As one of the film's chief protagonists, today's Moscow is not only competing with Daneliia's Moscow of the early 1960s, but also with Petersburg as portrayed in the romantic comedy Piter FM (dir. Oksana Bychkova, 2006). To outbid Piter FM, The Heat turns Moscow into a city in which every side-street view opens onto a body of water (Pravda). In fact, there is so much water in summertime Moscow that it could be a Black Sea resort. The images of Moscow show the city's high life, its clubs, cafés, and parks, in an endless succession of postcard shots. Ironically, Ivanov's review points out that “if anything at all is good about this film, then it is the work of its cameraman. Thanks to Maksim Osadchii's efforts, Moscow turns into a wondrous city flooded with light, inhabited by happy people” (Ivanov). Like Piter FM, The Heat is another film that “creates a new myth by showing cities that don't exist in a country that cannot be found on any map, selling this unknown territory to be settled as Russia” (Mikhailov). There are, of course, instances of wishful thinking that are portrayed as reality in Daneliia's film, but Gigineishvili just can't seem to get enough. When Nastia and Aleksei embrace on a bridge at the end of the film, it is oddly reminiscent of Aleksandr Gerasimov's painting Stalin and Voroshilov (1938). If the director had taken more care in using such markers, it would be easier to say whether he was being ironic or naïve. But on the whole, Gigineishvili's Moscow comes quite close to the Stalin-era slogan: “Life has become better. Life is more fun.” Only now, what is better and more fun is defined by the aesthetics of advertising and video clips. This also concerns the actors' appearance as sympathetic dress-up dolls; despite the heat that the title proclaims, not even a single drop of sweat breaks on their foreheads (Dolin).

The basic idea of comparing the enthusiasm of the early 1960s and the early 2000s may not be so bad. Remakes of classics from that time have a certain tradition—see, for example, Nikolai Dostal''s. Kolia Rolling in the Fields (Kolia—perekati pole, 2005). But in terms of execution, The Heat leaves too much to be desired. Its makers would have gained a great deal if they had simply taken more time: the script was written in ten days; pre-production took no more than two weeks; and after four months of shooting, the movie was done (“Slovo”). This is one of the reasons that all Russian reviews of this film have been negative, and stick to a tone of bemused, ironic distance.[2] Not a single film festival jury could bring itself to award the film a prize. Nevertheless, it resonated with young audiences that watched it in theaters once the New Year's celebrations were over.

Translated by David Riff

Christine Engel
University of Innsbruck


Notes

1] See the analysis of this film in Binder und Engel (98–101).

2] In addition to the reviews cited, see also Khokhriakova, Siniakov, and Rostotskii.


Works Cited

Binder, Eva und Christine Engel. Eisensteins Erben. Der sowjetische Film vom Tauwetter zur Perestrojka 1953–1991). Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachen und Literatured der Universität Innsbruck, 2002.

Dolin, Anton. “Svoi na prazdnike.” Moskovskie novosti (2 January 2007).

Exler, Alex. “Romanticheskaia komediia ' Zhara'”

—. “‘Zhara' ” Kinoman.

Ivanov, Aleksandr. “Pozitiv shagaet po Moskve.” Volgograd.RU (9 January 2007).

Khokhriakova, Svetlana. “Zhara semeinogo poriadka. Proekt Fedora Bondarchuka i Rezo

Gigineishvili.” Kultura 51 (28 December – 10 January 2007).

Klingenberg, Ol'ga. “Vmeste veselo shagat' ‘Zhara': Boitsy vernulis' v ‘ rotu'.” Zerkalo nedeli 50 (30 December – 5 January 2007).

Mikhailov, Igor'. “Soshedshie s nebes, ili gorod, kotorogo net.” Kinoafisha.RU.

Pravda, Elena. “‘Zhara' : 10 druzei Bondarchuka.” Kinokadr.Ru (3 January 2007).

Rostotskii, Stanislav. “Moskva-UKV: ‘Zhara' Rezo Gigineishvili na moskovskich ekranakh.” Vremia novostei 238 (25 December 2006).

Rynska, Bozhena. “Eto byla zhara.” Izvestiia (28 December 2006).

Siniakov, Sergei. “Niz zhivota napolniaetsia liubov'iu.” Mysli Online (26 December 2006).

"Slovo ‘milyi' menia n ? oskorbliaet”. Interv'iu s Rezo Gigineishvili. Time Out Moskva 51 (110)

 


The Heat, Russia 2006
Color, 95 minutes
Director: Rezo Gigineishvili
Scriptwriter: Rezo Gigineishvili
Cinematography: Maksim Osadchii
Composers: Dato Evgenidze, Timati
Cast: Artur Smol'ianinov, Konstantin Kriukov, Aleksei Chadov, Timati, Anastasiia Kochetkova, Agniia Ditkovskite, Deni Dadaev, Tigran Keosaian, Igor' Vernik, Irina Skobtseva, Mikhail Porechenikov, Fedor Bondarchuk, Svetlana Bondarchuk, Artem Michalkov
Producers: Aleksandr Rodnianskii, Fedor Bondarchuk, Dmitrii Rudovskii
Production: Art Pictures Group and Telekanal CTC

Rezo Gigineishvili: The Heat (Zhara, 2006)

reviewed by Christine Engel© 2007

Updated: 29 Jun 07