Issue 30 (2010)

Erzhan Rustembekov, Aleksandr Cherniaev: Irony of Love (Ironiia liubvi, 2010)

reviewed by Dawn Seckler © 2010

Spoiler Alert

ironyThe romantic comedy Irony of Love opens by flashing forward to a scene from the film’s end. In it, a voice-over narration conveys the thoughts of the lead male character, Ivan (Aleksei Chadov), who is walking down a Moscow pedestrian bridge dressed in a gorilla mask. He morosely announces that this is a story without a happy ending and goes on to ridicule himself for having believed in fairy tale conclusions with princes on white horses and the promise of eternal love. The film then cuts to the beautiful young Asel' (Asel' Sagatova), who runs full speed after Ivan. In her desperate attempt to reach him and clarify a tragic misunderstanding, she flings off her Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos, or whatever they are, and precedes barefoot. Without fully resolving the characters’ misgivings, this opening episode, which foreshadows what’s to come, ends. The film then backs up chronologically and begins anew by reintroducing its two main characters, situating them in their respective lives prior to having met one another. Unlike any number of art house films that play with narrative structure to confound the viewer and complicate expectations and explanations, Aleksandr Cherniaev’s directorial decision to begin his film with an episode from its end achieves precisely the opposite. By initiating the film with what amounts to Asel'’s proclamation of love for Ivan (one doesn’t trash designer pumps for just anybody), Cherniaev instantly removes all potential suspense and reassures his audiences that they may sit back and relax; whatever obstacles may follow, a fairy tale ending—of the type we’ve just been told not to expect—is imminent.  

ironyOn one hand, the film’s opening spoils its denouement: it’s clear that there will be a moment when the two character are torn apart, but it’s also clear that there will be reconciliation. On the other hand, the plot would have been equally predictable without this schmaltzy introduction. Irony of Love is a rudimentary genre film; it’s a romantic comedy at its most derivative and banal. It’s the legendary story of beauty and the geek. In this installment, Asel', a young woman who has it all—beauty, fantastic clothes, access to Moscow’s most exclusive restaurants and clubs, a car, and a millionaire financé—wants just one more thing: to be cast as the hostess of a television talk show. Her friend offers her a chance at the job, but with a catch: she has to make the next man to walk through the door fall in love with her. The proposition is laid out to Asel' while she and her socialite friends are sitting at a glamorous café; how bad could any guy entering this place be? Then, with a full dose of the slapstick fumbling, a monkey runs in, the girls shriek in horror, and Ivan trips through the door literally falling at Asel'’s feet.

ironyThe film proceeds as one expects: Asel'’s determined, Ivan’s confused; Asel' brings Ivan into her gilded world, Ivan knocks stuff over; one klutzy move and the two end up poised to kiss. The basic plot—a beautiful woman ensnares a man with an ulterior motive and ends up falling in love—is derivative, taken from any number of movies from How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco 1953) to How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days (Donald Petrie 2003). And individual scenes are poached from Hollywood films of the same ilk. For example, from There’s Something About Mary (Farrelly Brothers 1998), Cherniaev attempts to copy the fantastically raunchy scene of the tiny dog attacking Ben Stiller, but turns it into a lackluster battle between Ivan and Asel'’s parrot.

The degree to which the above comments are fair criticisms of the film is hard to determine, because the film did not aspire to anything more. When Irony of Love debuted in Moscow on 22 March 2010 the film’s lead producer Renat Davlet'iarov (he co-produced along with Ermek Amanshaev and Aleksandr Kotelevskii) stated that the film’s creative team made a consorted effort to avoid presenting anything grim or complex. He uses the changing of the seasons metaphorically to explain their goals: “At the end of this prolonged winter we do not want to show something gloomy and significant. We want winter to end finally and, for the next hour and a half, for every person, regardless of age, social status, whether cinephile or not to feel that spring has arrived.” [1]

ironyThe degree to which that was accomplished is questionable. A blog listing viewer opinions includes many dissatisfied responses along the lines of “a complete disappointment…a waste of time for nothing:-(((”; “it’s so primitive”; and “it’s a weak film; I had difficulty watching to the end. It’s hard to believe that in real life such a pretty girl would exchange an oligarch for such an uninteresting character.” However, the same blog contains positive replies too. One woman deems it “a very sweet film,” one that she would “recommend to families.” Another respondent as the following to say: “The film is a little native and resembles a fairy tale, but that’s what makes it. It’s a good, pleasant film. Besides, I’m sick of the junk on screen. These types of films you can watch with children.”[2] Whatever the film’s shortcomings, plenty of people went to see it. Sostav.ru, an online journal that provides market research for Russian industries, lists Irony of Love among Russia’s six most profitable films for the period from December 2009 through August 2010 and reports that it earned more than two times the film’s production budget.[3]

ironyWith all the attention to budgets, ticket sales, and profitability, it should come as no surprise that the primary names linked to the film are those of its stars and producers, not its director. The trio of Davlet'iarov, Amanshaev, and Kotelevskii includes two-thirds of the production team that gave Russia Lovey-Dovey (Liubov'-Morkov' 2007 and 2008, with a third sequel expected in 2011), which, like Irony of Love, riffs on a standard American genre—the parent/kid body swap premise of the Freaky Friday movies—to provides ample family entertainment. While the big name in Irony of Love is without question Chadov, he is accompanied by a host of other talented actors. Irina Rozanova plays Ivan’s overbearing mother, Artur Smol'ianinov appears as Ivan’s friend, and Gosha Kutsenko, plays a meditative police chief who responds to any and all of Asel'’s requests. Though this is Sagatova’s debut role—she comes to cinema from modeling—her good looks and acting skills are perfectly suited to films of this sort.

Dawn Seckler
Williams College

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Notes

1] Quoted in the Interfest Press Release on the occasion of the film’s premier.

2] The blog of viewer responses can be found at Kino-teatr.ru.

3] One source at sostav.ru; another source—www.kinopoisk.ru—lists Irony of Love’s budget at $2 million budget and its earning at just over $4 million.


Irony of Love, Kazakhstan / Russia, 2010,
85 minutes, color
Directors: Erzhan Rustembekov, Aleksandr Cherniaev
Scriptwriters: Daniyar Kumisbaev, Erzhan Rustembekov, Vladimir Zabaluev
Director of Photography: Dmitri Maltsev
Composer: Arkadi Ukupnik
Cast: Asel Sagatova, Aleksei Chadov, Irina Rozanova, Erik Zholzhaksynov, Farkhad Abdraimov
Producers: Ermek Amanshaev, Renat Davletyarvo, Alexander Kotelevsky
Production: Kazakhfilm Studio with Interfest (Russia).

Erzhan Rustembekov, Aleksandr Cherniaev: Irony of Love (Ironiia liubvi, 2010)

reviewed by Dawn Seckler © 2010

Updated: 01 Oct 10