Issue 31 (2011)

Egor Konchalovskii (ed.): Moscow, I Love You (Moskva, ia liubliu tebia, 2010)

reviewed by Sylvia Hölzl © 2011

moskva The title of the film almanac Moscow, I Love You promises a declaration of love to the Russian capital. And, without wishing to pre-empt the outcome, the 18 shorts fail to entirely fulfill this promise. Unlike its predecessors, Paris, je t’aime and New York, I Love You, the Russian film lacks charm and interest. However, if we ignore for the moment the lack of internal coherence that marks this series of micro-sujets and instead resign ourselves to the largely conventional narrative form of these episodes, it is certainly interesting to raise the question of the vision of Moscow depicted in the almanac.

The individual episodes of Moscow, I Love You are each five minutes long and bring to the screen a panoply of mini-dramas, amorous entanglements and grotesque sketches. The scope of atmospheric coloring ranges from lively comedy to meaningful allegory. The artistic form of the narrative miniature is not achieved by all of the directors, and moments when a piece of “authentic” Moscow life shines through are rare.

moskva So what kind of Moscow are we confronted with? The opening credits show a spinning roulette wheel, with Moscow at its center. The ball does not land on a number, but rather on a point on the map, which determines the location of the action whence the camera zooms. These locations are always in the inner circle of the city rather than on the periphery. Two associations are made here: that of the randomness of the episodes (whereby the lack of connections between the individual “Moscow stories” is disguised); and that of the chance of the game. In one scene the question is raised directly: “To Moscow? For the sake of happiness?”.The protagonists may find their personal luck in Moscow: the young woman from the provinces in search of the fairy-tale prince in the capital in “Line Disconnected;” the two lovers who find back to each other in “He and She;” the job applicant in a foreign company in “Job.” The quiet happiness of the woman who works in a night-time cleaning crew on the Moscow metro and sketches watercolors of the city in empty metro stations in “Etude in Light Hues;” the familial joy of the bank employee Anton from “Nikitsky Gates,” who replies in a telephone conversation with his mother’s request that he move away from Moscow with the argument that he loves the city, his job, and his wife. Moscow is presented here as a series of tacky postcard views and panning shots of the Moscow sky, but ironic snippets of dialogue also abound, including such gems as: “We absorb private capital and grind it down. In our own way, in the Moscow way;” or “Moscow is a large bed: Everyone sleeps with everyone else and everyone lies.” Here, in particular, the spotlight is on the contemporary spirit of the city and its inhabitants. It is hardly surprising that the episodes are rarely concerned with friendship, but rather with individual happiness and individuals seeking to make their way in/to Moscow, or who have already made it.

moskva The selection principle of the episodes is readily explained by a headline from the newspaper Izvestiia: “17 friends of Egor Konchalovskii declare their love of Moscow and the Muscovites”. The creative producer Egor Kochalovskii has assembled a posse of Russian directors, mostly of his own generation and including the offspring of the Mikhalkovs, Konchalovskiis, Paradjanovs, Ibragimbekovs, and Bondarchuks. One may view this with indifference; but one may also wonder why other directors were not involved. In addition to these, a few younger colleagues also had a chance and were joined by veterans such as Georgii Natanson, now over eighty years old. The fact that many of them know each other is apparent not only in the overlaps in the list of names in various co-operations. Egor Konchalovskii appeared for a few seconds in “The Taxi Driver” by Aleksei Golubev, for example. On the other hand, Ekaterina Dvigubskaia’s episode “In the Middle of the GUM by the Fountain” seems almost like a family reunion. As well as directing, Dvigubskaia also plays the main role of the ice-cream seller and invited her mother, Natal’ia Arinbasarova, to appear in the episode, from whom she requests an autograph. Dvigubskaia’s half-brother Egor Konchalovskii also makes a guest appearance as a Kazakh tourist who thanks the coquette ice-cream seller in his native language for the privilege of photographing her. The carousel continues with Konchalovskii’s wife and daughter, Liubov’ Tolkanina and Masha Mikhalkova, cousin Artem Mikhalkov and his wife Dar’ia Mikhalkova, and even Dvigubskaia’s husband Aleksandr Gotlib. The round is completed by the familiar faces of heartthrob Dmitrii Diuzhev, a smattering of showbiz starlets and old stars Al’bert Filozov and Natal’ia Fateeva. This pulp leaves a hollow aftertaste.

moskva Are they the Muscovites? But the episodes also confront us with other inhabitants of the Russian metropolis, with the Stalinist skyscrapers forming a conspicuous backdrop. A Russian reviewer even joked that the entire film is set in the district that is notionally limited by the “Seven Sisters” (see Shakina). The love story between the Russian student and the Italian footballer, entitled “Mosca ti amo” is set in the student hostel of Moscow State University. Following a tryst, the Italian is forced to flee onto the window sill from the immigration police. The apartment building on Kotel’nicheskaia Embankment and the apartment building on Kudrinskaia Square are, respectively, the scenes of the story “Real Life” in which a young man receives moral guidance from his grandfather and “Highrise” (a businessman, played by Fedor Bondarchuk, wants to take his own life, but is saved by a neighbour who has observed his preparations through a telescope).

moskva All in all, most of the episodes have a happy end, and nothing bad happens to anyone in this Moscow. Even the killer in “The Violinist” proves to have a good heart. In his ironic episode “Muscovites”, Egor Konchalovskii addresses, in a comedic manner, the question of what an “old-established Muscovite” (korennoi Moskvich) is and plays off both leaders of rival criminal gangs against each other. In the end, both protagonists end up in the back of a police van, chained to each other, while the Dunaevskii song from 1947 “My dear Muscovites” (Dorogie moi moskvichi) plays on the radio.

moskva Of all these episodes, only Murad Ibragimbekov’s “Object No.1” manages to convince. This short film was already shown in 2009 at the Venice International Film Festival in the Shorts Section. In a reference to Sots-Art, the film reflects on the treatment of Soviet symbols. It is the story of an apprentice and his master who are responsible for the maintenance of Moscow’s monuments, including the statue to Gagarin, the sculpture of the Worker and Farm Worker by Vera Mukhina, and Tsereteli’s statue of Peter the Great. Scenes shot in the studio were later edited on the computer in high-resolution black and white, the only other color used being red. At the episode's conclusion, the apprentice is finally allowed to enter Object No. 1—the red Kremlin star. The ironic interplay of the acts of conquering, occupying and polishing these symbols of power is achieved here with a dizzying simplicity.

moskva Moscow, I Love You opened the 2010 Kinotavr Russian Film Festival. Following the almanac Crush of the previous year, this was the second time in a row that a compilation of short films was chosen as opening film. But in contrast to Crush, there were no young directors at work here. In Moscow, I Love You one recognizes not so much the tradition of the kinoal’manakh at work, as characterized by Joshua First in his review of Crush, but rather the economically-minded marketing of a city backdrop. It is an open secret that Russian producers wanted to match the stunning success of the French predecessor at the Russian box office. In addition to the festival version, comprising 18 episodes, an edited version, shortened by three episodes, was created for distribution, with 221 copies for release. Due to the high number of copies and an extensive advertising campaign, Moscow, I Love You achieved its commercial aims. But the film itself will soon share the same fate as so many other almanac and slip into oblivion.

Translated by Carolyn Kelly and Damian Harrison

Sylvia Hölzl
University of Innsbruck

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Works Cited

Fedina, Anna, “17 druzei Egora Konchalovskogo priznaiutsia v liubvi k Moskve i moskvicham.” Izvestiia 4 June 2010.

Shakina, Ol’ga, “Iz Moskvy s liubov’iu.” film.ru 2 September 2010.

First, Joshua, Review of “Crush”, KinoKultura 26 (2009)

 


Moscow, I Love You, Russia, 2010
Color, 110 minutes (18 short films), 100 minutes (15 short films)
Directors: Aleksandr Kasatkin “Mosca ti amo”, Artem Mikhalkov “Job”, Andrei Razenkov “He and She” (On i ona), Ėlina Suni “Barada / Unpleasant situation” (Barada / Nepriiatnaia situatsiia), Ekaterina Kalinina “A Midsummer Night’s Smile” (Ulybka letnei nochi), Ivan Okhlobystin “Real Life” (Nastoiashchaia zhizn’), Georgii Natanson “Letter to Granny Uyna” (Pis’mo babushke Uine), Georgii Paradjanov “Valerik”, Nana Djordjadse “Highrise” (Vysotka), Ekaterina Dvigubskaia “In the Middle of the GUM by the Fountain” (V tsentre GUMa u fontana), Vasilii Chiginskii “Etude in Light Hues” (Ėtiud v svetlykh tonakh), Oleg Fomin “Line Disconnected” (Abonent nedostupen), Egor Konchalovskii “Muscovites” (Moskvichi), Alla Surikova “The Queen” (Koroleva), Vera Storozheva “The Violinist” (Skripach), Aleksei Golubev “The Taxi Driver” (Taksist), Iraklii Kvirikadze “Nikitskie Vorota”, Murad Ibragimbekov “Object No.1”
Creative Producer: Egor Konchalovskii
General Producer: Iurii Glotser
Production: PC TVC, BFG-Media Production

Egor Konchalovskii (ed.): Moscow, I Love You (Moskva, ia liubliu tebia, 2010)

reviewed by Sylvia Hölzl © 2011

Updated: 12 Jan 11