Issue 33 (2011)
Roman Karimov: Inadequate People (Neadekvatnye liudi, 2010)
reviewed by Irina Anisimova © 2011
Psychoanalysis is still a relatively rare profession in Russia, and very few people there seek psychological help. Psychoanalysis, however, plays a central role in Roman Karimov’s debut film, Inadequate People. Rather than reflecting the realities of Russian life, psychoanalysis here is borrowed from the Hollywood tradition, where it often provides both the film’s narrative structure and a better understanding of characters. Like many Hollywood films, Inadequate People also treats psychoanalysis ironically—Dr Kozlov turns out to be a sadomasochist, and the film’s heroine Kristina even refers to the self-analysis of Woody Allen. In accordance with its genre, romantic comedy, the film suggests that the characters’ psychological problems should be solved not through professional help, but primarily through love.
Inadequate People, then, is a romantic comedy with a darker undercurrent. The film’s male protagonist, Vitalii (Il’ia Liubimov), suffers from jealousy and is unable to control his violent outbreaks. He realizes the inadequacy of his life when his girlfriend dies in a car accident as he falls asleep while driving. Vitalii then moves to Moscow to start a new life. He is guided in this endeavor by the psychoanalyst, Dr Kozlov (Evgenii Tsyganov), whose therapy consists of giving Vitalii a key to a new apartment and his own book, Life from a Blank Page (Zhizn’ s chistogo lista), that should help Vitalii in the process of recovery. As Dr Kozlov explains, “No one has died from this therapy yet.” The film then follows Vitalii as he gets a job at a glossy women’s magazine and develops a relationship with the teenage girl living next-door, Kristina (Ingrid Olerinskaia). His past still troubles him, however, as it appears in flashbacks throughout the film. Similarly, his violence simmers just beneath the surface, and he finds it hard to control his anger. Due to the introduction of the protagonist’s troubled past, the film can be described as art-house light (avtorskii meinstrim), belonging somewhere between art-house and pure genre cinema.
Vitalii is not the only character in need of psychological help. The boss of the glossy magazine where he works, Marina (Iuliia Tashkina), suffers from sex addiction, and Kristina has difficulty relating to her mother. Along with other minor characters, they can be described as the “inadequate people” of the title. Significantly, both Kristina and Marina end up at the psychoanalyst’s office. Like the psychoanalyst, these characters have their prototypes in Hollywood cinema. The despotic boss of a women’s glossy magazine can be traced to The Devil Wears Prada, and troubled teenagers like Kristina appear frequently in both Hollywood and Russian films. These characters are then quite “adequate,” and even typical, for contemporary cinema, so that the film critic Elena Paisova can describe the characters of Inadequate People as “serial marionettes.”
What is somewhat atypical for the Hollywood cinema is the film’s gender dynamic. Perhaps reflecting the gender imbalance in Russia, all of Vitalii’s significant interactions are with women. This tendency can be partially explained by the fact that Vitalii works in a women’s glossy magazine, but this pattern is also repeated in most of his interactions outside of work. True to the genre of romantic comedy, the characters find themselves in situations of triangulation. However, whereas Kristina has only one potential suitor in addition to Vitalii (which constitutes a proper triangle), at least four women try to win the protagonist’s attention. Significantly, Kristina’s competitors for Vitalii’s affections include even her mother and her friend. It is also only Vitalii who has real depth in the film—the flashbacks provide both a way into his dark past and into his feelings. Even though Kristina appears to be in need of psychological help, her problems are typical for a teenager and are not fully developed or represented. In a revealing dialogue, Vitalii explains to his colleague Svetlana that his positive quality consists of being a man. To Svetlana’s apparent surprise, he further explains that men have “different perspectives, goals, and possibilities.” This “difference” apparently extends to inner depth and psychological complexity.
The film borrows from Hollywood not only its character types and the use of, and irony towards, psychoanalysis, but also its interest in portraying the life of the middle class. Unlike many recent Russian films, Inadequate People does not focus on the sordidness of provincial life, but shows a stable society where people have the luxury of being inadequate and consulting psychoanalysts about their problems. Moving to Moscow, Vitalii easily acquires a new apartment and well-paid job. Even in Serpukhov, Vitalii clearly belongs to the middle class, since as a result of the car accident, he is afraid of losing a newly acquired important job promotion. One can only wonder what kind of career perspective Vitalii could lose in provincial Serpukhov! The move from Serpukhov to Moscow not for economic, but for purely psychological reasons clearly removes the film from Russian reality to the logic of Hollywood. The film is also similar to a number of Russian TV series that portray the life of the middle class, as is evident in the emphasis on dialogue. Not only the main characters, but virtually everybody in the film engages in witty exchanges, making it a sort of film of manners for the Russian middle class.
The film is nonchalant towards the protagonist’s acts and psychological problems. While he commits violent acts in several scenes, his actions are never punished or apprehended. Except for his tortured consciousness, he suffers no consequences from the car accident and the death that he apparently caused. Furthermore, the end of the film suggests that the love of a troubled teenage girl will cure him from latent violence and personal tragedy, and he will finally be able to begin a new life. At the beginning of the film, Dr Kozlov tells his young assistant (apparently his daughter) that she should create separate lists for schizophrenics and paranoiacs. If we try to classify the film according to this logic, the film clearly belongs to the schizophrenic type. While it complicates the genre of a romantic comedy with issues of the protagonist’s troubled past and violence, it does not allow its audience to concentrate on these issues. At the end of the film, we do not worry about the future of Kristina and Vitalii in light of their problems. Instead, the film makes us forget about the darker aspects and be happy about the characters’ new-found happiness.
I believe that it is this perhaps somewhat escapist logic that made the film the favorite for the audience of the “Window to Europe” Festival in Vyborg in August 2010, where it received five awards, including Best Debut and Grand Prix. By contrast, Aleksei Balabanov’s The Stoker (Kochegar)received two awards: Special Jury Prize (for high professional mastery) and a “White Elephant” from the Russian Guild of Film Scholars and Critics.
The success of Inadequate People is even more remarkable if we consider its low production cost. The young director, Roman Karimov (b. 1984) made his film on a record low budget of $100,000 Karimov is not only the director of the film, he also wrote the script, created the soundtrack, and appeared in the episodic part of a bartender. While Karimov’s many roles in the making of the film can be explained by its extremely limited budget, it also shows his talents and versatility. The success of Inadequate People enabled Karimov to continue his film career. His new film, the dark comedy Into Smithereens (Vdrebezgi, 2011), which he has also edited and written, screened in competition at the 2011 Kinotavr Festival. According to a recent interview with Nataliia Osipova, Karimov’s future plans include both genre and art-house films. He would like to make a “serious drama” and a horror film: the plans show the wide range of his interests and ambitions.
University of Pittsburgh
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1] David Shumway argues that romantic comedies usually rely on a triadic structure, which includes a pair of subjects and an excluded third subject. In this arrangement, narrative succession takes place “because the excluded subject always seeks to be included in the pair. When he or she is included, this will necessarily displace someone else” (399).
2] The cinema that focuses on the negative aspects of Russian provincial life include such films as Buben, Baraban (Mizgirev, 2010), Wolfy (Volchok, Sigarev, 2009), Once Upon a Time in the Provinces (Odnazhdy v provintsii, Shagalova, 2009), Sonny (Synok, Sadilova, 2009), ), The Italian (Ital’ianets, Kravchuk, 2005). Such films as Cargo 200 (Gruz 200, Balabanov, 2008), Tale in the Darkness (Skazka pro temnotu, Khomeriki, 2009), and Free Floating (Svobodnoe plavan’e, Khlebnikov, 2009) also to some extent participate in this trend.
Osipova, Nataliia. “Roman Karimov: ‘Vdrebezgi’—eto svoeobraznyi fleshbek iz moego proshlogo, poetomu ia delal etot fil’m neskol’ko otvlechenno,” ProfiCinema, 31 May 2011.
Paisova, Elena, “Vatnye liudi—‘Neadekvatnye liudi’, rezhisser Roman Karimov,” Iskusstvo kino, 9 (2010).
Shumway, David, “Screwball Comedies: Constructing Romance, Mystifying Marriage,” in Film Genre Reader III, Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Austin: Texas UP, 2003, 396-416.
Inadequate People, Russia, 2010
102 mins, color
Scriptwriter, editor, music, and Director: Roman Karimov
Cinematography: Il’ia Ovsenev
DoP: Olesia Petrash
Sound design: Ivan Geranchev
Cast: Il’ia Liubimov, Ingrid Olerinskaia, Evgenii Tsyganov, Iuliia Takshina, Marina Zaitseva, Artem Dushkin, Polina Iosilevich, Anastasia Fedorkova
Producer: Mikhail Kukushkin
Production: Sinema Praim
Roman Karimov: Inadequate People (Neadekvatnye liudi, 2010)
reviewed by Irina Anisimova © 2011