Issue 33 (2011)
Anna Matison: Satisfaction (Satisfaktsiia, 2010)
reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2011
Can Intoxicated Interactions Produce Satisfaction? (or What Men Drink About)
Well before Satisfaction’s presentation at Kinotavr 2010, publicity for Anna Matison’s debut film tended to emphasize those elements that the picture lacks: nudity, mayhem and murder. Nor does the film sport elaborate or expensive special effects. As one producer observed time and time again, Satisfaction’s total budget would have covered the expenses for less than twenty seconds of James Cameron’s Avatar. From the outset this chamber drama has evoked comparisons to Dmitrii D’iachenko’s What Men Talk About (O chem. govoriat muzhchiny, 2010, reviewed in Kinokultura 29), even from the director herself. In an interview for ProfiCinema Matison passed along the remark that “Satisfaction is a film about what men really talk about.” Differences in genre, structure and tone notwithstanding, both pictures eschew the graphic violence and sex that long dominated the big and small screens. Set in the present day, both rely on traditional cinematic techniques (simple plot-line, flashbacks, multiple close-ups) to explore the fancies and foibles of Russian “Men of a Certain Age.”
In Satisfaction the men in questions are two successful provincial businessmen. The well-heeled, well-connected forty-five-year-old senior partner, aptly named Verkhozin (Evgenii Grishkovets), discovers that his thirty-something colleague Dmitrii (Denis Burgazliev) has been sharing more than the profits. The cuckold decides to reclaim his lost honor by confronting the bounder and challenging him to a duel. Verkhozin’s demand for satisfaction (satisfaktsiia) observes the formal conventions of the Russian dueling tradition, save in choice of weaponry (alcohol) and the caveat: that as they imbibe, the combatants must share their thoughts on nine topics that he has selected. Verkhozin’s list ranges from seemingly innocuous concerns (ice cream, first job or music) to matters more serious and potentially ominous (friendship, children, responsibility). The man able to out-drink the other will emerge victorious, with the right to claim the lady in question and a cool million dollars in cash.
Thus begins a “spirited” duel of excessive libations and rambling declarations that relies heavily on the performances of the two leading actors, both possessed of considerable theatrical experience. Burgazliev, a student of the Moscow Art Theater, began appearing on that stage in the late nineteen-eighties. He may be best known for his role in the Stanislavskii Theater’s production of Bald Brunet (Lysyi briunet, Dana Gink, 1992), where he played the brunet to Petr Mamonov’s baldie. By that time the actor had also branched out into music and cinema (Winter Tale, Luna Park, 1992). While living in Germany (1997-2005), Burgazliev joined the company of the Hanover Dramatic Theater and continued his acting career abroad (England!, Swetlana, both 2000; The Bourne Supremacy, 2004). Of late he has appeared in major roles in the films Clairvoyant (Iasnovidiashchaia, Il’ia Khotinenko, 2009) and Roses for Elsa (Rozy dlia El’zy, Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii, 2009). The Russian viewing public may likely recognize him from his current role in the popular television series Volkov’s Hour (Chas Volkova, 2007-) where for the past three seasons he has played the junior member of a pair of mismatched, manly crime-fighters. Burgazliev drew on his experience in duet dramas and on his time abroad to imbue the more urbane and travelled Dmitrii with weight enough to compete with the more powerful figure of Verkhozin, the character with which marks the cinematic debut of Grishkovets as a leading man.
The prolific theater director, playwright, stage actor and stand-up performer first appeared onscreen in 2003 as Seva, the young entrepreneur and groom-to-be in Aleksei Uchitel’’s Stroll (Progulka, reviewed in Kinokultura). Since that time he has played in several films and television series (among them The First Circle, Not by Bread Alone, 13 Months, Moscow Fireworks). To some extent Verkhozin, his first starring role, resembles an older and more malevolent incarnation of Seva, now grown a more affluent and influential businessman, yet still haunted by the traumas of his past. For Grishkovets, Verkhozin’s dilemmas highlight the spurious aspirations and machinations of his generation’s power-brokers and should serve as a cautionary tale of the corrosive nature of power and the slippery slide to moral bankruptcy.
Inasmuch as Grishkovets served as a co-producer and co-screenwriter, many of his loyal fans simply assume that Satisfaction sprang from his head fully-formed. While collaborative efforts between established performers and young directors make it more difficult to ascertain individual contributions (another feature it shares with What Men Talk About), to dismiss Matison out of hand seems rather short-sided and downright sexist. As Grishkovets has noted repeatedly this is not the first time the two have worked together. Matison shares writing credits with Grishkovets for the play House (Dom, 2009), a work commissioned for the twentieth anniversary of The School of Contemporary Plays (Shkola sovremennoi p’esy), now part of the Moscow theater’s repertoire. More germane is “Mood’s Improved – 2” (Nastroenie uluchilos’-2). In 2006 the Irkutsk studio REC.Production approached Grishkovets with the idea of filming his eponymous text. Two years later Matison, the youngest member of the company, would write the screen treatment and along with producer Iurii Dorokhin direct this music video-cum-cinematic short. Cameraman Andrei Zakablukhovskii’s created bright, highly saturated images of provincial scenes as well as extreme close-ups of Grishkovets performing recitatives to the instrumental music of the Kaliningrad group “Bigudi”. What emerged was a light-heated treatment of many of the concerns that will reappear in Matison’s first feature film, as well as stylistic elements that will receive greater development therein. Surely a mood enhancer for all concerned, the project enabled Matison to gain entrance into the State Filmmaking Institute and forged working relationships that would lead to this second, more elaborate joint venture between Grishkovets and REC.Production. In the summer of 2009 the team reunited in Irkutsk to begin shooting a feature that displays the skills of local talent.
At the very least this native crew and cast (leads excepted) enable viewers to consider provincial life from the perspectives of those who live there (a somewhat rare opportunity in this day and age). Although establishing shots focus on the city center and later shots capture the beauty of Lake Baikal, the duel proper unfolds inside an empty upscale restaurant reserved for the festivities. Within this hermetic space the emphasis shifts from Siberia per se to a more general consideration of Russian life almost anywhere but Moscow (the subplot featuring the restaurant’s owner and staff only add to this impression).
Yet not every viewer will find the ramblings of two increasingly inebriated rivals to their satisfaction. The principles, often shot in extreme close-ups, deliver some interesting posts and ripostes about generational differences, but also provide some very old chestnuts. Moments of blatant manipulation (the attempted rescue of a dog caught in heavy traffic) or overblown acting (the scene culminating with Verdi’s “Lacrimosa”) tend to compromise both the characterizations and the film’s moral earnestness. Perhaps the problem stems from Grishkovets’ range as an actor, for here he portrays a bully and petty tyrant with the same intonations and gestures he has used in the past to create more sympathetic and convincing types. While Verkhozin sports an expensive Italian suit, this may be an instance where clothes alone cannot make the man.
Grishkovets aficionados, to be sure, are delighted by his performance and consider the film both timely and captivating. It may well be that the contributions of the self-proclaimed “one-man band” simply eclipsed those of the neophyte cinema student.
For this reviewer Satisfaction does contain moments that are visually arresting and places where elements combine to captivate the viewer, an impression no doubt prompted by the recurring kaleidoscope patterns that swirl throughout the film. When we finally learn that these elegant, beautiful images are generated by the young dishwasher (played by Anastasiia Shinkarenko), the sole female member of the restaurant’s male kitchen staff, is it foolish to see Matison’s hand behind another type of lens?
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1] For a discussion of his work in the theater, see Beumers, Birgit & Lipovetsky, Mark, “Evgenii Grishkovets and Trauma,” Performing Violence: Literary and Theatrical Experiments of New Russian Drama, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Matison, Anna, interview with Mariia Mukhina, “’Satisfaktsiia’: fil’m o tom, o chem deistvitel’no govoriat muzhchiny,” ProfiCinema 9 June 2010.
Satisfaction, Russian 2010
93 min., color
Director: Anna Matison
Screenplay: Evgenii Grishkovets, Anna Matison
Cinematography: Andrei Zakablukovskii
Production Design Dmitrii Galin, Anna Moroz
Cast: Evgenii Grishkovets, Denis Burgazliev, Tatiana Skorokhodova, Georgii Nakashidze, Iurii Baziliev, Aleksandr Bratenkov, Igor’ Chirva, Oleg Malyshev, Anastasiia Shinkareva, Evgenii Soloninkin
Producers: Evgenii Grishkovets, Irina Iutkina, Aleksandr Orlov
Production: Huckleberry Film
Anna Matison: Satisfaction (Satisfaktsiia, 2010)
reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2011