Tat'iana Voronetskaia: Inspiring (Naturshchitsa, 2007)

reviewed by Natalya Rulyova© 2008

Inspiring is a costume drama based on Iurii Nagibin's short story “Three Men and One Woman and One More” (Troe i odna i eshche odin). The plot of the film is as follows:

At the beginning of the 20th century, a mysterious couple (a gentleman with a lady) arrives from Europe at a small hotel in Tiflis. Her name is Sophie (Viktoriia Tolstoganova). She is beautiful and spontaneous; she tends to follow her intuition. In the recent past, she was married to Mr Pshibyshevskii and she was also a muse of the famous artist Eduard Munch (Vitalii Egorov). She was part of the bohemian circles in Berlin and Paris. Having been rejected by Munch, she left Europe with Eshenbakh (Daniil Spivakovskii), her companion in Tiflis. He is opposite to her: he is serious, calculating, and suspicious. He is rich and extremely jealous of her past. He is also very disapproving of her liberated, bohemian manners and flirtatious behavior. But he wants to win her over. They take two separate rooms at the hotel. She likes spending her time at the hotel restaurant, where she smokes cigarettes with a long cigarette holder and sips wine. They visit a local church where they have an argument about the depiction of Christ. She believes in the story given by their guide that Christ opens his eyes when you approach the icon. He denies it. He decides to return to the church in the middle of the night to check whether Christ really opens his eyes and confirms that it is her fantasy or simply a visual illusion. She is, by contrast, seeking to meet the model of the famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani, whose painting hangs in her room. The differences between Sophie and Eshenbakh grow and arguments become more frequent. Meanwhile, Eshenbakh notices that a local organ-grinder is hanging revolutionary notices on the street. The climax of the film is a party scene at which Sophie is voted the most beautiful woman and, as part of charity fund-raising, every man who wishes to dance with her has to give some money to charity. Eshenbakh looses his cool…

The film aspires to please everyone. According to its website, in the film “a lyrist will find an arresting love story,” “someone who likes action movies will find a mysterious detective political intrigue,” “an art lover (liubitel' prekrasnogo) will pay attention to refined camera work,” and “the intellectual will discover some deep philosophical meanings” (official website). Unfortunately, most of these promises do not hold up.

Let us begin with the “lyrical” side of the film. The love story could have been more arresting if the plot had stayed closer to Nagibin's story, which focuses solely on the relationships of the main heroine (Dagni in the story) with the three men (Munch, August Strindberg, and Stanislav Pshibyshevskii) from Berlin's bohemian circle and her present lover (Baiard Eshenbakh). The story provides psychological insight into her love affairs through dialogues and inner monologues. Instead, the film's screenwriter, Dmitrii Sobolev—also known as the screenwriter of Pavel Lungin's The Island (Ostrov, 2006)—interrupts the main plotline with a subplot about some pre-revolutionary Bolshevik developments in Tiflis. As a result, her complicated and intriguing past relationships are reduced to a couple of scenes at The Black Piglet restaurant in Berlin where she is hanging out, smoking, and kissing Munch. The role of Munch in the film is only fleeting and episodic: he draws Sophie and coldly rejects her. The critic Svetlana Stepnova finds all the Berlin scenes “unnecessary and pointless.” Viktoriia Tolstoganova's rather monotonous acting—she keeps the same smile throughout the film—does not help express Sophie's inner emotion, which would reveal the meaning of the scenes from the past.

Another change in the screen plot that does not work in favor of the film is the culminating party scene. In Nagibin's story, instead of an odd high society charity event, Dagni and Eshenbakh go to a party with local railway engineers at some smoky restaurant. They all eat and drink a lot and the men around the table start flirting with her while she jokingly encourages them. Nagibin's scene is organic within the story: the Tiflis restaurant reminds her of The Black Piglet in Berlin, but what was an appropriate behavior in Berlin is not approved of in Tiflis. The Sobolev scene is frankly incomprehensible, especially with the addition of a search for Bolshevik supporters during the break for taking a group photo. Sobolev also invents such scenes as Eshenbakh's return to the church in the middle of the night to look at the icon in candle light while Sophie is finding her way to the barn where the former Pirosmani model is forced to live due to her illness. Both scenes overcomplicate the plot and the one with Eshenbakh is not quite believable—after all, he is supposed to be the sensible one.

The press release's second claim (that viewers who like political intrigue will like the film) is equally problematic. As was mentioned before, the detective political intrigue—which has to do with the revolutionary events in town—is an invention of the screenwriter. This obviously does not have to be a problem, as the film is an independent piece of work. However, this subplot neither helps understand the heroine nor is developed enough to stand in its own right. Russian critics, however, have split on this issue. Vitalii Vul'f finds it convincing, while Ol'ga Shervud (as well as some others) do not think it effective in any way.

Art lovers may well be satisfied with the camera work (Nikolai Nemoliaev), the exquisite costumes, the beautiful features of Viktoriia Tolstoganova and Pirosmani's paintings hung at the hotel, but could be put off by the portrayal of Tiflis. The city was filmed entirely in the Mosfil'm Studio. As a result, it does not appear “a large city full of people” as in Nagibin's story, but rather a small provincial town populated by a couple of humorous characters involved in a few “street scenes.” Even generally positive reviews of the film are critical of the sterile and untruthful portrayal of the city (Stepanova; Alekhin). [1]

The inhabitants of Tiflis include the Russian railway engineer Andrei (Daniil Strakhov), who is involved in the political subplot; the humorous Jewish banker Shnaider (Mark Rudenshtein), who hides in the chest from Eshenbakh in order to steal his money; the Georgian hotel owner and his assistant, who are involved in amusing dialogues; and other episodic Georgian characters whom we meet in the street—such as local boys and the drunkard wine seller. Instead of speaking Georgian, all the Georgian characters in the film speak Russian with a Caucasian accent and none of them are part of the “society” to which the Russians in the film seem to belong. This adds some odd colonial flavor to the screenplay.

Finally, as far as “the deep philosophical meaning” of the film is concerned, it must be so deeply hidden that it is hard to find it at all.

Natalya Rulyova
University of Birmingham

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Notes

1] Alekhin disapproves of most of the film, as well as of the depiction of Tiflis.


Works Cited

Alekhin, Kirill. “‘Naturshchitsa'.” TimeOut Moskva (27 June 2007).

“Fil'm Tat'iany Voronetskoi ‘Naturshchitsa'”; official website .

Shervud, Ol'ga. “‘Naturshchitsa': golyi cherep.” Yuga.Ru (20 July 2007).

Stepnova, Svetlana. “Svoboda, poriadok i povelitel' much.” Ruskino.Ru.

Vul'f, Vitalii. “Kartina sniata s udivitel'nym vkusom”.

 


Inspiring, Russia, 2007
Color, 116 minutes
Director: Tat'iana Voronetskaia
Screenplay: Dmitrii Sobolev, based on a short story by Iurii Nagibin
Cinematography: Nikolai Nemoliaev
Composer: Dmitrii Kurliandskii
Cast: Viktoriia Tolstoganova, Daniil Spivakovskii, Nikolai Fomenko, Vitalii Egorov, Daniil Strakhov, Mark Rudenshtein
Producer: Tat'iana Voronetskaia
Production: RossFil'm, with support from the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema

Tat'iana Voronetskaia: Inspiring (Naturshchitsa, 2007)

reviewed by Natalya Rulyova© 2008

Updated: 13 Jul 08