Kinoteatr.doc 2008: Some Notes on the Cuffs

By Dina Goder (Moscow)

The festival “kinoteatr.doc” is very attractive for me and I attended not for the first time. I always I try to watch the films at the screenings in the small basement of “teatr.doc,” where entrance is free. There is always a crowd of spectators here (many of them have to sit on the floor), and the directors usually present their films at this venue. The audience consists of good-hearted and bright young people: watching films in their company is a pleasure, because they react in a friendly, energetic and adequate manner. This year I was in the festival's jury, so I consider it inappropriate to write about it as a journalist. Therefore I jotted down some notes about the films to jog my own memory. Instead of a traditional review of the festival program I offer some of these notes here.

PAL/SECAM (directed by Dmitrii Povolotskii). This is a short fiction film, or rather a sketch, nicely made in retro style. The film tells about a teenager who tries to lure a girl into his apartment to show her a video, whilst the boors from the courtyard organize a paid session showing porn films in the apartment.

Festival (directed by Alina Polunina) is a one-hour documentary about the festival “Territoria.” First we see the festival organizers Evgenii Mironov and Kirill Serebrennikov as they jump up and down with juvenile screams before the students. This is in fact rather disgusting: a year ago, at opening of “Territoria” I witnessed a similar scene and subsequently never wanted to go there again – especially since the students in the crowd are drunk with beer. They just want to come to Moscow to let their hair loose, but they don't figure out anything. Of course they'd rather hop around Moscow than take in modern art and listen to what dumb kids have to say about spirituality and about not having learnt anything. Mironov and Serebrennikov gradually lose their footing and get angry when they realize that the crowd is completely indifferent to the crème de la crème of the art world which the festival has brought to Moscow… and they seem to imply that they, too, come from the backwaters, but they wanted to achieve things in their life... Actually, this view is typical Moscow snobbery. It is easy to confront an unprepared person with a load of complex, shocking modern art: not only with bare bottoms and vulgar language, but with incessant breaches of conventions and provocations. When people experience natural shock and repulsion, they claim not to understand— but that is a normal defense mechanism to protect themselves. Viewing and understanding modern art is a matter of teaching and learning. So instead of bringing all these young people to Moscow, it would be more appropriate to make a selection (or hold a competition), so that those who attend the festival are genuinely interested and don't just come for the free trip to Moscow to fool around and look at Evgenii Mironov in person. I don't know where the idea of a festival for high schools students came from— whether there is special funding for such educational projects, but that is not the way to do it.

My Class (Moi klass, directed by Ekaterina Eremenko). This film is quite extraordinary, not only because the director is a woman who finished school over twenty years ago and now meets her former schoolmates, half of whom have emigrated. Although this is also an important point, especially in the light of the social network “Schoolmates” right now, when reunions are being held right, left and center. I recognize these faces perfectly well: not the individual faces, but the types. The men are all handsome and successful, typical mathematicians: their manner of speaking, their mime and gestures. I find it difficult to assess the film, although it seems that the staged physics lesson with explanations of different phenomena, of which the director composed a structural grid, is somewhat artificial and superfluous. There's too much material here, especially the powerful story about the betrayal of a boy who wrote an article against the director, Davidovich, saying that there is no anti-Semitic feeling at the department. The director's fate is also quite extraordinary: she graduated from school, then her mother died in an accident and she worked as a model for a foreign agency. Then she studied at film school and became a director, married a German man and now lives in Germany with three children. Miracles happen….

Far from London (Daleko ot Londona, directed by Iuliia Kiseleva) was made at the Ekaterinburg studio “ ?-Film.” The film consists of an interview with the playwright Vasilii Sigarev, and was shot in his small hometown, Verkhniaia Salda in the Sverdlovsk region. Sigarev is articulate, but there is a sense of unbalance between the story and footage of the town. He talks about the savage life, the fights, the poverty, how he was run over by a suburban train and then kept in the accident and emergency department, and so on. There is a sense that he somewhat exaggerates this savageness, that he chooses episodes to built a certain image of himself. Sure, the town is poor, but more in an epic sense rather than in terms of horror and anguish.

Soma (directed by Sergei Uryvaev) is a fiction film with a documentary intonation, which leaves a strange, but strong impression. The protagonist is amazing: a ruddy-faced, gentle man with massive sexual and psychological problems. He manages to get a job as a television journalist, but he is clearly not capable of doing it. He films some unusable reports which show women reciting poetry in subway passages (they seem to be real people, not actresses), and so on. The director and the actor show the protagonist in such a way that a constant sense of danger emanates from him. He meets a girl by the river, and we immediately suspect that he would rape and kill her: pure horror. Indeed, he kills two girls, but that happens somehow by the way. Then he watches with his old hags a clip that shows them reading Esenin. This gentle, ruddy man is just like the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. The film was shot in Moscow, but strangely it possesses a sense of provincialism, not only because it captures Moscow like an unknown provincial town, but because the energy is different: the drive is untypical of the capital.

Availability, Obedience and Bad Memory (Dostupnost', bezotkaznost' i plokhaia pamiat', directed by Daria Riabov) is an amusing film, more like a sketch. It is a fiction film with a documentary touch. The heroine comes from the provinces and dreams of marrying rich so she can have a nice life. She does not want to work and lives in extreme poverty—she can't even pay for public transport. But all the same she tries to behave gracefully. Her type is well captured in the film.

Grains (Zerna, directed by Egor Baranov) is also a fiction film made in Ekaterinburg. The actors are all from the Koliada Theatre (founded by the playwright Nikolai Koliada a few years ago), and they perform without any make-up or grimacing, which is so unusual that some of them can hardly be recognized. The main part, the student, is powerfully interpreted by the exceptional actor Oleg Iagodin. The story goes like this: a young man's mother gets hooked on Buddhism and abruptly departs for Tibet, leaving a note to say that she has gone for good. The young man abandons his studies, finds a girl, prepares for the army, and thinks of selling the apartment – when his mum suddenly comes back, absolutely inopportunely. The director added some superfluous bits with the mother's visions and thus increased the tension unnecessarily: if the intonation had been calmer, the film would be stronger, since Iagodin's nervous tension is quite sufficient. Moreover, the tension is heightened through the background songs of the local group “Kurare” where Iagodin sings (whence the title “Grains”). This seems superfluous and old-fashioned, reminiscent of the good old influence of rock music during perestroika.

Once upon a Time Lived Grandfather (Zhil-byl dedushki, directed by Sergei Bosenko). The director filmed his elderly father who lives in a village, where he keeps goats and grows grapes. It is always interesting to look at a human being, but there's nothing new here and the grandfather flaunts a little in front of the camera. However, the director tells us some interesting things about this place in Bessarabia, where the French settled to start vineyards.

Games of the Imagination (Igry voobrazheniia, directed by Roman Manzhosov et al.). Under different circumstances I would not watch such a film. The main hero is a schizoid man, who considers himself to be a doctor or a film director. He constantly argues about something significant. It is hard and awkward to watch this. His name appears in the titles as one of the directors and this film (as was explained later) is actually an art therapy for a genuinely sick man. This is probably a worthy exercise in itself, but all the same the result should be a change in the state of health rather than festival cinema. But maybe I am wrong.

Swing (directed by Anatolii Baluev) is also from Ekaterinburg, a city which emerged as a prime location for films. This film consists of a long interview with a curious man: a jazz percussionist who spent almost twenty years in prison for all sorts of fights—hooliganisms and beatings. Strangely enough, his speech is cultured and lively, although he never studied and comes from a simple family. He keeps remembering his beloved mother in a nice manner. One wonderful episode shows how he took her out for a walk: he made large steps while she—of small stature – tripped along beside him. He shows this with a rhythm, like a true drummer.

Traumatism (Travmatizm, directed by Natalia Merkulova). A girl discusses with her partner what love and sex are, what constitutes betrayal, and what they should not do. Basically the man speaks with somewhat ostentatious cynicism, while she—a rather romantic girl—asks questions from behind the camera. They both have had families already, and this experience proved so traumatic that now they assess each other before they meet the heroine's father to discuss the same issues with him. This makes curious viewing. After the screening the director told the spectators that she went through a period of difficulties in her relationships when she decided some important things for herself, and that she achieved this through the film. Her partner was also in the audience. The ensuing discussion took the form of a session of group therapy. It is strange to solve personal problems in this manner. Obviously, art always draws on personal experience, but this direct approach resembles an act of voyeurism—maybe awkwardly so in the presence of the protagonists.

Border State (Pogranichnoe sostoianie, directed by Vlad Reznichenko). A story about a woman from Blagoveshchensk, who is neither old nor ugly. Her husband poisoned himself, leaving her with two daughters, one of whom lives with the grandmother. The woman travels to a neighboring Chinese city to enjoy herself, to find a Chinese man and marry so she can stay there. But none of this comes true. The woman is a recognizable type: she drinks, goes on a shopping spree, cries about her fate; she has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric clinic. The film is terribly long—one and a half hours; but on the other hand, maybe this is necessary to achieve a genuine immersion in somebody else's life – and there are many interesting details about life on the border: the Chinese town with its numerous Russian features, such as the restaurant “Putin,” massages, markets, young lads, etc.

Lukomore (directed by Vadim Antonevich). The director graduated from an Israeli film school and his story tells about Russian-speaking vagabonds in Israel. The material is quite curious and resembles our Russian vagabond stories, with one major difference: it is warm there, so there are no problems with the winter. But the story—summarized poignantly in the synopsis—does not quite translate into film: a peaceful and friendly company of drunkards lives in a park in Tel Aviv. When Kostia (the Korean)—an aggressive and spiteful drug addict—enters the scene, blood is shed and the paradise (Lukomore) disappears. These plot lines are present in the film, but there are also others themes, which could form a separate story. Therefore the script fails, in my opinion, even if there are some noteworthy episodes. At the first “doc” festival there was a film about Russian-speaking vagabonds in Yerevan (Open Air), which was sentimental, but very well made.

Tolya (directed by Rodion Brodsky) is another Israeli film, which is just ten minutes long and beautifully constructed. True, I did not understand everything: first, what does “documentary fiction” mean here? Usually this applies when the director asks the participants of a real event to repeat it. Maybe this is true here, too. But I did not understand who these people are: it would appear they are Belarusian gastarbeiter, although I am not sure there are such people in Israel. The story is about the builder Tolya, aged about fifty and with a mustache, who works on a building site in Israel and lives in a temporary camp with the other workers. On 8 March (Women's Day) they all queue in front of the telephone before going to work in order to call their wives and congratulate them on Women's Day. Tolya has prepared a note that says how he misses home, but that he cannot yet come back. But Tolya had several teeth extracted and shouts something into the receiver that his wife cannot understand. Then he gives the note to a friend so he can read it, but he recites an awfully tearful text, quickly hangs up and runs for the bus. Tolya asks for his wife's response: nothing, she cried. The bus leaves, but Tolya stays behind and rings his wife again: squatting on the ground, he meows into the phone. Then she recognizes him and laughs. And he walks to work.

Rossosh. Ragtime… (Rossosh. Regtaim…, directed by Pulat Akhmatov). A film about the life on the railway station of Rossosh on the line Moscow – Adler, where the train stands for half an hour while a brisk trade is conducted with the passengers. The film has two focal points: the director of the local amateur theatre (this plot is unattractive and, in my opinion, superfluous); and two pretty girls (both already have children), who make pies and sell them at the station. In the evening, one of them dances in a local striptease bar. All this is maybe a little drawn-out, many conversations are superfluous, but the slice of life is very interesting.

Multiplication Table (Tablitsa umnozheniia, directed by Elena Demidova) is a simple story of a boy and a girl who walk along the road to the school in the next village, which is four kilometers away. Life here is primitive, but they don't know any better and live without complaint. On the whole, things look quite positive. The boy, who is the girl's senior, insists that he knows the multiplication table better than the girl.

How Anechka saw a Member (Kak Anechka uvidela chlen, directed by Denis Dunas). The pretty, drunken Anechka is leaning against a white wall, wearing her underwear. She talk about that, giggling incessantly: how, at the age of eight, a young exhibitionist caught her in the lift, and later some rapist grabbed her in a taxi, and so on. Fortunately the girl is outspoken and open: she flirts with the director who stands behind the camera, drinks Bailey's, babbles something and looks like a funny whore. At the end of the screening the director offered some fine interpretations: this is not a documentary, but a video that comes closer to modern art—which is obvious. But the director, with his strong theoretical background, continued to e xplain in a dull manner what is erotic and what not, insisting that Anechka is actually a multi-faceted personality with two higher degrees.

How to Become a Wretch (Kak stat' stervoi, directed by Alina Rudnitskaia). This is a lengthy portrait of a psychological training program for women in St Petersburg, where a middle-aged man teaches them how not to be wretched, but to tempt men and how to be submissive, thus preparing them for the hunt on a husband and instructing them how to deal with him. The women are rather different: there are ninnies and intelligent women, with sex appeal and extremely timid; they are all of a different age, but they are all quite good-looking; they just have complexes. The teacher knows his job well and is not stupid, but the trite monstrosity of everything he teaches them is nevertheless appalling. Yet the ladies are glad to loosen up and to tempt others; they are prepared to do anything, even things that at first sight seem absolutely impossible and repulsive.

Hunting beyond the Gates (Okhota za vorota, directed by Natalia Meshchaninova). The director has done a fine job, in my opinion. After last year's Herbarium she made a vivid, observant and democratic film about students of the Suvorov Military School, a class of 14-year-olds. Actually one of the boys looks like a 10-year-old, while others are already mature young men. The film was shot over two months and shows how the boys study, fool around, sleep during classes, or altercate with officers. The most charming scene shows how, on 23 February, they go in an organized formation to a meeting with the local girls who expect them in the House for Creative Children. The girls look older and behave more freely. There are dances and games in the presence of the officers, followed by a light non-alcoholic snack (the boys run to the dining room first and quickly write their mobile numbers on the napkins for the girls). Then they go back home in the same formation while the girls see them off in a crowd. When alone, the boys start to let off their steam and dance until they are sent to bed. The audience roared with laughter from beginning to end: the mood of the film is entirely good-natured.

Sister (Sestra, directed by Pavel Fattakhutdinov) is a documentary from Ekaterinburg with a story about a young woman, who grew up in a large family and lost her eyesight in an accident. Now she has settled with her infant in a small summerhouse that is unsuitable for living; the people around her would be glad to help, but they have too many things of their own to do. The woman is silent, quiet, and never complains; she deserves respect. There is a strong episode when the child's father comes for a visit and brings a small gift. He stands around indifferently and leaves. Whatever happened between them off camera is not clear, but it is enough to see her sit silently, with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Taxi Driver (Taksist, directed by Roman Bondarchuk). A strange fiction film with an appealing Ukrainian story about a taxi driver who agrees to drive a girl to college, but takes her home and locks her up. He tries to persuade her to marry him, even buying a fine dress and jewelry, but the girl runs away all the same.

The Redhead and the Snow (Ryzhaia i sneg, directed by Ammet Magometov). A fiction film that I did not like all that much, though it apparently had a number of fans, especially among the girls. It revolves around a poetic hero, a student actor from the Shchukin Theatre School (played by the same person who wrote he script and who is apparently a student himself). Some half-naked pretty girls, some ironic young men and some absurd activities between music classes, rehearsals and other typical school stuff—all this is certainly charming, but this is more a film for schoolgirls.

The Jump (Pryzhok, directed by Taisia Reshetnikova). This is a very short film about a girl, who goes purposefully to a construction site in order to bungee-jump from a terrible height. She explains that she wants to induce a miscarriage, since she has split up with her boyfriend. There are long shots showing her lack of resolve and people trying to persuade her to jump, until her eyes fill with tears—and in the end she does not jump. The film is not great, but it impressively captures how people try to persuade her and how she is scared.

Wedding for Lamers (Svad'ba dlia chainikov, directed by Vladimir Loginov) is a film that I found interesting— although nobody seemed to notice it. A groom and his bride, both adults, who have lived together for a long time, have decided to record the preparations for their wedding step by step: how they ordered the rings, how the bride went to the dressmaker, how they chose the music, etc. The action is set in Estonia, although the couple is Russian. The film is composed in the style of an army album with silly credits (how many days to go) and vignettes, although I reckon there is less naivety and more slyness, and the film makes for amusing viewing.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Stills courtesy of kinoteatr.doc

Dina Goder





MY CLASS, director Ekaterina Eremenko, “for documenting an era”


THE REDHEAD AND THE SNOW, director Ammet Magometov


THE REDHEAD AND THE SNOW, director Ammet Magometov


HOW TO BECOME A WRETCH, director Anna Rudnitskaia

Dina Goder© 2008

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Updated: 13 Jul 08