Issue 32 (2011)

Iurii Grymov: Another Sense (Na oshchup’, 2010)

reviewed by Andrei Khrenov © 2011

“Forget about Burgers, I Offer You a Desert”, or Conventional Adventure in Perception

oshupIurii Grymov’s films—the recent Another Sense and the five previous ones—have always formed polarizing opinions: they are either greatly liked or much hated. The reason is obvious: Grymov’s visual style is the most distinctive, challenging and remarkable of all these film directors who belong to the generation of trend-setting up-and-coming clipmakers. For Grymov himself, as well as for Iaroslav Chevazhevskii, Timur Bekmambetov and, to certain degree, Fedor Bondarchuk (with his “Art Pictures Group” coterie) the production of music videos and television commercials became not just a starting ground for honing their directing skills, but also a means of financing their own art-house debut features in the 90s. “Clip aesthetics” in cinema emerged under the influence of popular culture and its indispensable offspring, MTV, and it tends to structure the narrative as a string of “illustrated songs” (as music videos were called then)—often loosely-related, but elaborate, visually stimulating, vibrant colorful episodes with rhythmic editing (preferably to smash hits on the soundtrack). “Clip style” downplays the nuances of film acting, and especially psychological performances in traditional mise-en-scènes. More often than not it uses techniques borrowed from underground and avant-garde film—eccentric camera angles, dramatic lighting, slow or accelerated motion, color filtering, and the like. 

oshupAt first glance it seems that Another Sense could have provided numerous expressive opportunities for representing the vision of a teenager born blind, who unexpectedly recovers sight and loses it again upon completion of his revenge mission. The story had the potential, though unrealized, to demonstrate that the lack of sight does not prevent from, but even contributes to, a better apprehension of things: according to the characters, the hero possesses a true “inner vision” that helps him resist the cruelty and violence of the surrounding world with the innocence and naiveté of a Forrest Gump.

The first part of the film is deliberately distanced from the “clip aesthetics” and more related to “coming-of-age” films of the 80s, such as Sergei Solov’ev’s 100 Days after Childhood (Sto dnei posle detstva, 1975), The Lifeguard (Spasatel’, 1980), The Direct Heiress (Naslednitsa po priamoi, 1982) or Rolan Bykov’s Scarecrow (Chuchelo, 1983). Gleb (Anton Shagin)—who tells his story in the very beginning—is being raised in a small town by his grandfather, a dentist (Valerii Barinov), who teaches the blind boy to shoot in a shooting gallery and to be passionate about cinema, describing the screen events to him (“what’s important is not to look, it’s to see”). He reassures Gleb of his unique vision, which is directed inward: “You’re lucky you don’t see this world, the trifles of life do not distract you, but you see its essence.” Gleb himself suggests that the only way to understand people is “by touch” (“na oshup”). The motives of violence and cruelty of the world are first introduced when the local racketeers extort money from the dentist and he dies soon after the attack.

oshupNow Gleb is taken care of by his runaway father (Aleksandr Baluev), a racketeer himself. The father’s entry marks the beginning of the dynamic and colorful kaleidoscope of “illustrated songs,” replacing the grey and wintry monochrome lighting of grandfather's town. More than anywhere else in the narrative, “clip aesthetics” here contribute to an inadvertent aesthetization not only of joy, but of violence as well. When the father’s apartment is destroyed with a barrage of machine-gun shots fired by the rival thugs in an elaborated, colorful, extremely slow-motioned scene with Aleksandra Pakhmutova’s oldie hit “Hope” on the soundtrack,[1] he travels with Gleb to the Black Sea coast where both settle in a small resort. The town’s glamorous touristy sights, with therapeutic mud baths and soaring kites, appear in yet another music video set to Aleksandr F. Skliar’s melodious song “Eldorado”.

Gleb also has to take for granted the imaginary spaces that his conniving dad makes him experience. The first one is “China” where the blind kid touches the “Great Chinese Wall” while his big daddy makes a bloody mess out of some local gangsters. When Gleb turns 22, he is cynically pushed by his father to lose his virginity during a visit to the nearby strip-club “New York,” which is presented to him as the real America. The culmination of the first half of the film is another brilliantly aestheticized execution scene, when daddy, now a politician, is brutally massacred while his son recovers sight at this very moment. 

oshupThe film’s second half focuses on Gleb’s adjustment to a now visible world shown with the same bash colors of advertising and music videos, and on his resolute determination to avenge his father. It also develops the motive of true love and fidelity, started earlier when the young boy vows to marry Nastia, his neighbor in the provincial town, and now finds her namesake reincarnation in a contemporary artist, a girl with shaved-head hairstyle (Natal’ia Naumova). An idyllic love story ensues, interspersed with occasional intrusions of the cruel world (Nastia’s former lover who is a local thug still pursues her). The gender roles in this part are deliberately reversed—Gleb sports a black kimono that looks like female dress, while Nastia puts on a white military jacket and uses Gleb’s help for shaving her head.

Another Sense ends with the most parodic scene, an obvious spoof on the graphically violent, deadpan action thrillers by Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. The scene begins with an ironic opening line (with Russian voice-over) “Warner Brothers Co. presents Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt” and is followed by smash hits on the soundtrack. It shows how an avenger gets to a metal factory, a hangout place for local thugs, to kill a gang leader with an arbalest borrowed from his girlfriend’s contemporary art installation. However, his moral values, spirituality and innocence make him hesitate; indecisive, he is captured by the thugs and manages to escape only when Nastia comes to his rescue. A happy ending is followed by an episode showing the couple staring at the sun in the vast Crimean steppes, while the protagonist, who is blind again, silently cries.

oshupThe intense, overwhelming and dense visual style of MTV clips employed by Grymov and his cinematographer Andrei Katorzhenko virtually excludes any possibility for an alternative exploration of the cinematic apparatus, an examination that would help find equivalents of the blind boy’s “inner vision,” his “other sense.” Using the arsenal of conventional film language, Another Sense largely ignores the findings of experimental filmmakers, and those of Stan Brakhage in particular, whose “metaphors of vision” include the context of the blind man’s “eyesight” (The Way to Shadow Garden, Reflections on Black, both 1955).[2] Stan Brakhage claims that the process of acculturation, language-based social conditioning gradually restricts the freedom of sight (as can be found in young children), thus making us understand what is socially acceptable to look at and how to label what we see. Therefore, he claims mainstream cinema as well as television are efficient tools for acculturation, as they strengthen sterile, pragmatic, largely materialistic modes of seeing—and living, for that matter.

oshupOn that note, Grymov also comes up with a hard-hitting critique of the television, popular entertainment industry and mass-media. The grandfather’s claim that “television is trash” and “cinema is true art” establishes a critical angle for the entire story: Gleb refers to this claim when talking to the TV celebrity Andrei Malakhov, whom he does not recognize, and tears his promotional magazine to pieces; for three days in a row he watches television flooded with violent news on terrorist attacks, serial killers, rapes, suicides etc; while hesitantly preparing his act of revenge, he hallucinates and sees the faces of female characters with special effects from television shows, and so on. An epitome of unscrupulous “TV-trash” is the cynical meta-ending that treats the whole story as if it were a recorded broadcast with Gleb discussing his best improvised lines in the made-up tearjerker (hopefully, with a high rating).

Like Brakhage, Grymov is also very sensitive to the oppressive nature of mass culture, although on a different level. Starting out in mid-eighties and having become a leader in the production of post-Soviet music videos and advertising commercials (about 600 clips and 70 awards in Russia and abroad), the clip-maker turned to film-making and has been working there for 15 years.

Many years ago I was busy shooting music videos for Alla Pugacheva, Alsu and others. At that time I realized that I live wrong. I make clips for music that I don’t listen to. No go, I thought then. I like Metallica, AC/DC, Shostakovich, but had to make clips for Gazmanov, for example. So I decided never to deal with that again, and make films instead. But freedom is very costly in economic terms. I am dreaming of the support from my spectators so they would come and watch my films. Forget about burgers, I offer you a desert! [3]

Unlike Brakhage, who used film as a means of representing his own spiritual quest through an “adventure in perception”, Grymov remains within the restrictive limits of the clip aesthetics with its “cheap appearances,”[4] and conventional ways of seeing, never daring to engender in the viewer various states of perceptional experience, exploring the imagined “innocent” vision (of blind children in particular) and failing to make a truly spiritual breakthrough into the other realm of “another sense”, as Grymov’s audience  would expect from his recent picture. 

 

Andrei Khrenov
University of Washington, Seattle

Comment on this article on Facebook

Notes

1] For that scene, as for other elaborate slow-motion effects, Grymov uses special Photo-Sonics 35mm-4B capable for 900 frames per second. See Mazurova.

2] Brakhage films about the blind where seeing precedes language also reflect back on the conditions of filmmaking. In The Way to Shadow Garden a desperate hero gouges out both his eyes, after that the film “plunges” into negative showing him feeling his way through a garden of brilliant white flowers in an illusionary night. In Reflections on Black flashes (or film flares that appear on black leader) as well as the author’s scratches on the film stock itself draw a distinct line between imagination and actuality. For more on that see Sitney 1979: 138-140).

3] Grymov's interview to TVJAM diaries.

4] Russian avant-garde artist and composer of the opera Victory Over the Sun Mikhail Matiushin wrote of the “sun of cheap appearances”, defining it as “conventional beauty”, in Matiushin1986: 152. See also Clark 1993: 38-39.


Works Cited

Clark, Katerina (1993), Petersburg, the Crucible of Cultural Revolution, Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Sitney, P. Adams (1979), Visionary Film, New York: Oxford University Press

Matiushin, Mikhail (1986), “Russkie kubo-futuristy,” in: K istorii russkogo avangarda, Stockholm: Hylaea Prints

Mazurova, Svetlana (2009), “900 kadrov v sekundu” Rossiiskaia gazeta 4 August 2009.


Another Sense, Russia, 2010
Color, 107 minutes
Director: Iurii Grymov
Script: Vladimir Maliagin, Viacheslav Durnenkov, Mikhail Durnenkov
DoP: Andrei Katorzhenko
Composer: Faustas Latenas
Production Design: Pavel Parkhomenko, Maria Danilova, Emilia Gerts
Producers: Iurii Grymov, Mikhail Babakhanov, Igor’ Zhukov

 

Iurii Grymov: Another Sense (Na oshchup’, 2010)

reviewed by Andrei Khrenov © 2011

Updated: 11 Apr 11