Issue 28 (2010)

Dmitrii Grachev: Bride at Any Price (Nevesta liuboi tsenoi, 2009)

reviewed by Irina Makoveeva © 2010

nevestaOne has to admit that Dmitrii Grachev’s debut comedy, Bride at Any Price, is a success, as it adequately fulfills the undisguised goal of entertaining its audience, even if only its youthful part—those who once chose Pepsi, to borrow an expression from the perestroika era. It is doubtful whether Grachev’s use of computer-generated imagery and his male protagonist’s carefree sexual pranks would appeal to the older generation, whose cinematic tastes were formed in the Soviet era. While the almost unbearable lightness of the hero’s being alienates those who anticipate intellectual challenges from their encounters with celluloid reality, the graphic aspect of the film’s exploitation of fashionably new methods of filmmaking increases the distance between the screen and moviegoers, almost nullifying the magic of the “traditional” cinematic experience. Yet, these are precisely the factors that contributed to the film’s popularity with young Russians.

Unsophisticated in its story lines and characters, Bride at Any Price unfolds as a flashback  narrated by Stas, the protagonist. The film opens with him standing in a courtyard surrounded by thugs and desperately calling for his beloved. Such an intriguing introduction of the main character is followed by the depiction of four days that led to this critical moment. A notorious womanizer, Stas is also a prosperous young professional working at a company designing feline litter boxes. Already enjoying the financially rewarding status of a top manager who engages in a luxurious life style (including an extravagant lavender convertible), he strives for the position of vice president—which requires the acquisition of new investors. To succeed in this endeavor, Stas contacts a powerful businessman, Chernov, despite his notorious reputation as a brute—a caricature of the New Russian.

nevestaHowever, before finalizing the contract, Stas, blinded by his victories both public and private, dares to spend the night with Chernov’s voluptuous mistress. In the morning, as he leaves the woman’s apartment and fails to conquer a passing “skirt,” thanks to her boyfriend’s violent interference, our careless Don Juan appears before the vigilant guardian of Chernov’s beloved in suspiciously crumpled clothing. This encounter inevitably sets in motion the outrage of a cuckolded partner. Ever industrious, Stas mobilizes his computer assistant to locate all available brides residing in this part of the building, to convince Chernov that it was someone else he was visiting that night. 

In a rapidly developing search—clocked by the numbers displayed at the bottom of the screen and signaling an inevitable meeting with Chernov—Stas demonstrates his profound knowledge of “lassoing” techniques. Although helpful to his shy computer sidekick, as well as to male audiences, Stas’s winning tactics fail to prevent a fiasco. For different reasons, none of the women he is ready to conquer can become his alibi. But a lucky coincidence saves our hero, now at gunpoint. Salvation comes in the person of a young woman, whom a drunken Stas has inadvertently charmed while confessing to her his recent misfortunes with women and whose apartment, it turns out, is located near the ill-fated entrance.

nevestaStructurally, Grachev’s comedy is reminiscent of Vitalii Mel’nikov’s Seven Brides of Private Zbruev (1970). Although much less experienced at wooing (or screwing) women—the elapsed time between the two films is evident in their portrayal of primal male sexuality—Private Zbruev similarly tests all candidates with whom he corresponded while in the army. Moreover, the top manager’s search replays the 1970 finale, which reiterates Russian literary and cultural traditions: the right woman lives in a remote village and the mowing scene signals the characters’ emotional convergence. Accordingly, not only does Stas meet his savior/fiancée at a dacha outside the corrupt city, but her emotional and physical innocence also springs from her connection with “authentic” values. Here, the act of mowing is replaced with another truly Russian activity, drinking. At the same time, in contrast to Zbruev’s quest for the best bride, which develops horizontally as he travels by train throughout the vast country and surveys the wide social variety of available females, Stas’s investigation along the vertical axis of the apartment building betrays the sexual heterogeneity of contemporary women and does it in an extremely funny way, such as in scenes depicting Stas’s intercourse with a sadistic policewoman or his beating among the urinals at the hands of an angry feminist.  

nevestaThe most important difference between the two films, however, is the dissimilar kinds of laughter evoked by their creators. While the gentle irony of Mel’nikov’s narrative attests to the filmmaker’s attempt to portray a positive coming-of-age story in an entertaining manner, Grachev’s grotesque depiction of the escapades of a young man outside the normative world of distinctions between good and evil betrays the carnivalesque nature of the situation. It seems that Bride at Any Price can only benefit from reading it against the Bakhtinian notion of a public square and its central figure, the rogue, as the fool. Intriguingly, the rogue’s function of stripping life’s façade with impunity, exposing life’s essentials and taboo themes, manifests itself in Stas’s innate ability to “undress” every woman he sees as she enters his field of vision. And, not accidentally, he remains unpunished: even on his wedding day he takes a young woman into the woods. Since the rogue cannot exist outside his role, Stas legitimately retains his ways, new conjugal ties notwithstanding.  

nevestaNot surprisingly, the director assigned the role of Stas the rogue to Pavel Volia—a controversial public figure, member of Comedy Club, television host, singer, and actor, who exercises the fool’s unique privilege of shocking his audiences by articulating taboo thoughts. Despite his relatively recent appearance on Russian television, Volia has gained enough recognition to have quickly become a cult figure who is occasionally called a “glamour bastard.” In many ways, the success of Grachev’s film should be attributed to Volia’s talent as a comedian. His burlesque performance is well supported by Liubov’ Tolkalina as Stas’s rival at the office, fighting for promotion, although, unlike Stas, using exclusively dishonest methods and capitalizing on her sexual appeal. Disgraced at the end, she only highlights her male opponent’s invincibility.  

Viewers who enjoyed Bride at Any Price, which is graphically reminiscent of simplistic virtual reality rather than life off-screen and is artistically comparable to a colorful comedy show, may anticipate a sequel, as the director has explicitly stated his desire to film part two in the near future.

Irina Makoveeva
Vanderbilt University

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Bride at Any Price, Russia, 2009
Color, 100 min
Director: Dmitrii Grachev
Scriptwriter: Iurii Patrenin
Cinematography: Ivan Gudkov
Art Direction: Natal’ia Iakimenko
Composer: Maksim Golovin
Cast: Pavel Volia, Liubov’ Tolkalina, Tania Gevorkian, Ol’ga Shelest, Maksim Kostromykin, Mariia Shalaeva
Producers: Ruben Dishdishian and Anna Melikian
Production: Central Partnership, Magnum

Dmitrii Grachev: Bride at Any Price (Nevesta liuboi tsenoi, 2009)

reviewed by Irina Makoveeva © 2010

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