Issue 31 (2011)
Iuliia Mazurova: Over the City (Nad Gorodom, 2010)
reviewed by Saskia Weber © 2011
Karlsson-on-the-Roof in modern Moscow
In her debut film Iuliia Mazurova tells the story of Georgii—an egoistic, conceited and unreliable young man who lives in a roof-top studio of an apartment building in Moscow. He enjoys being over the city, away from the crowds and traffic jams, and longs to be able to move around Moscow on its roofs only. But although the business he runs seems to go well without him being present, there are, of course, still many other reasons why he has to descend from his roof from time to time. Unfortunately, this always turns out to be a disappointing experience for those closest to him, as the only thing he is seriously interested in is to find a way to get onto a certain roof. He dreams of a life in which he would be completely free and would never have to come down to the busy streets of Moscow where there are unpleasant things like obligations and other people’s expectations.
At some point, Georgii even says about himself that he is a much better person when he is on the roof than when he is on the street—and he is right. Unable and unwilling to take responsibility for anybody—neither for his 5-year old son, who does not even realize that Georgii is his father, nor for anybody else—he is not exactly a nice person. But still, the first impression people get when they meet him for the first time is more than positive: he is creative, charming and a little special. Everybody is fascinated by him—until they begin to expect proper friendship. He neither takes responsibility for his family nor does he make an effort to uphold relationships with other people. Although he constantly meets people, he knows that in the streets of Moscow he has no real friends, only acquaintances; and even those who could become his friends eventually understand that Georgii does not care about them. He does not think about what others might want, and is oblivious to the fact that some people might really need him. In the course of the film Georgii mentions twice that you meet many people when you walk along the streets of Moscow, but that they are never the ones you want to meet. Thus, he has not seen his father, who lives just around the corner, for seven years.
For Georgii being on the roof, i.e. over the city and above everybody, is a privilege and something available only to “chosen” people. More precisely, he is the chosen one and it is up to him to invite other people to join: First of all, there is Ignat, an 11-year old boy who lives with his parents and his dog Martin in the same house as Georgii. Ignat’s parents are a wealthy, happy couple who care about each other and Ignat, and who are afraid that their son could get lost in the big city if he would leave the backyard when taking his dog for a walk. However, they are always busy and never have time for him, so Ignat spends his summer holidays on his own at home. But when Georgii suddenly shows up and takes him onto the roof and walks with him around the streets of Moscow, his life seems to become more interesting and he begins to see Georgii as a friend. Georgii, however, constantly abandons Ignat, but always comes back when he needs his help. At some point in the film, after having been abandoned by Georgii again, the boy tells his dog that he is lonely, but that this is a feeling you have to get used to.
The second person Georgii is willing to share the privilege of being over the city with is Irina, a young woman from Murmansk whom Georgii meets right after her arrival in Moscow. He feels that she is not like everybody else, but like him, i.e. above everything and everybody. This is, however, not the case: Irina likes Moscow. She likes people and she especially likes the idea of the metropolis. As soon as Georgii realizes that she is not as special as he thought she was, he takes the first opportunity to run away from her—without any explanation and without even letting her know that he would never come back.
Georgii just comes and goes whenever he wants, regardless of the damage his behavior might do to his relationships with people who need him—if there still are such people in his life. He is aware of his loneliness and hopes to find somebody to share his dream with, but as soon as he realizes that a person might be happy to live a life similar to everybody else’s in Moscow, he immediately loses interest. But if he dislikes life in busy Moscow so much, is it only the fact that he likes to feel superior that prevents him from leaving the city and moving to a little village in Finland, as he suggests to Irina? Or maybe it is also because somewhere else he would not know how to justify his social incompetence?
Throughout the whole film, Moscow is shown as a noisy city with large crowds and traffic jams everywhere. Many of the shots on street level (as opposed to shots from the roof, which often show nothing but a boundless blue sky) are taken from a low angle, emphasizing the incredible height of the buildings. Moscow is depicted as a constricting and dangerous place where everybody is busy with their lives and jobs but where everybody is alone amidst millions. The idea of danger even reflects in the music: a frightening melody is repeated every time traffic or crowds are shown to highlight the bad sides of the city, whereas in general the music is light and positive, underlining Georgii’s happy-go-lucky attitude and especially the bliss experienced on the roofs of Moscow.
In addition to the contrast between roof and street there is a third component—Georgii’s fantasy world: in three animated black-and-white sequences Georgii is shown as a lonesome hero who—in computer-game fashion—fights the united forces of the masses of people, which are embodied by a dragon. These sequences remind the viewer of the legend of Saint George (Russian: Georgii) and the dragon, where Saint George slew a dragon (a scene depicted on Moscow’s city coat of arms) and thus saved the life of a princess. Mazurova’s animated Georgii, however, changes his mind and exposes the girl (Irina) he had rescued earlier to the dragon: when he is already flying towards the sky with the girl in his arms (in a scene alluding to Marc Chagall’s canvas Over the Town, 1914-18), he suddenly drops her. Nevertheless, Georgii seems to view himself as the only lonely person in the big city who possesses values and who is worried about the increasing number of skyscrapers and roads crammed with cars and people. But instead of taking action in real life, Mazurova’s “hero of our time” prefers to flee into his imaginary world, where he can be the good guy without losing the sense that he is very special and above everybody else.
In the real world, however, Georgii is just a copy of Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson-on-the-Roof (1955-68):he lives—just like Karlsson—on the roof of an ordinary building and befriends a boy who lives with his family in the same house. Both in Karlsson-on-the-Roof and Over the City the boys admire their new friends, despite the fact that they are highly unreliable and come and go whenever they want. As egocentric, ordinary, young men who enjoy the idea that they are much more interesting than everybody else, Karlsson and Georgii (who both seem more like children than grown-ups, but view themselves as men in their best years) are very similar, yet with one significant difference: Karlsson—as opposed to Georgii— has found a way to look special in the eyes of others. A motorized propeller on his back allows him to fly and thus really be above everybody whenever he pushes the little button on his stomach, whereas Georgii’s superiority exists only in his dreams.
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Over the City, Russia, 2010
Color, 77 minutes
Director: Iuliia Mazurova
Scriptwriter: Iuliia Mazurova, Mura Mur
Original Idea: Evgenii Sules
Director of Photography: Aleksandr Kuznetsov
Production Design: Ol’ga Osipova
Music: Peter Dranga
Animation: Sergei Gordeev
Producer: Aleksandr Gerasimov
Cast: Aleksandr Skotnikov, Svetlana Ivanova, Roma Marian, Ol’ga Kalashnikova, Oleg Liubimov, Irina Brazgovka, Bronislava Zakharova, Xavier Juillot, Vladimir Mikhailovskii
Production Company: Masterfilm
Iuliia Mazurova: Over the City (Nad Gorodom, 2010)
reviewed by Saskia Weber © 2011