Issue 34 (2011)
Vladimir Kott: Gromozeka (2011)
reviewed by Dawn Seckler © 2011
Three childhood friends—Gromov (Boris Kamorzin), Mozerov (Leonid Gromov), and Kaminskii (Nikolai Dobrynin)—struggle with middle-age malaise in director Vladimir Kott’s second feature film, Gromozeka. An introductory episode begins with a flashback that captures the trio in high school walking with guitar, drum, and bass toward a concert stage. When they open the door to enter the theater, the scene abruptly jumps ahead about a quarter of a century to reveal the same three characters, now drunk and middle-aged, reliving the concerts of their youth. These days, rather than playing for a live audience, they sing and dance in front of a home video camera that quickly loses its battery power. The sputtering out of the camera’s battery easily translates into a metaphor for the men’s own loss of any virile charge. As the reunion moves from the bar to the banya, they hit the showers. Lined up side-by-side in adjacent shower stalls the men rinse off, and the film’s title appears sketched onto the screen. As each character turns to face the camera, full-frontal portraits are obscured by strategically placed shaded-in letters. [GROMOZEKA 1] If Lacanian discourse identifies power, language, and patriarchal law with the phallus, then this symbolic erasure of the phallus serves to foreshadow the men’s inability to assert themselves either in language or in action.
Metaphorical allusions to impotence dominate the film’s narrative. The cop Gromov represents anything but power and authority. His uniform cannot hide a fleshy and wide-eyed physique that makes him immediately recognizable as a pitiful softy [GROMOZEKA 2]. He fails to control a street gang, who scares him off, and although he distributes weapons to the guys on the force, he is so incapable of using his own that he’s sacked. The implicit Freudian connotations of his professional ineptitude are made explicit in the disinterest shown by his wife, for whose attention Gromov painfully yearns. The widower Mozerov lives and works alone; he drives a cab. When we meet him, he’s silently tolerating the rather unequivocal public displays of affection occurring in the back seat. After this eventful evening he returns home with some beer and some porn only to discover his estranged daughter in the lead role. When he tries to confront her with the fatherly goal of helping—he insists on giving her money assuming this will alleviate her need to continue acting—the conversation is so stilted and uncomfortable that he never addresses the issue at hand. Incapable of asserting paternal/patriarchal authority over her, he decides that he must furtively have his daughter disfigured and thus ruin her porn career. Finally, there’s Kaminskii, a surgeon, who is introduced as a young patient dies under his care. Plagued by depression, Kaminskii’s relationships with a pregnant mistress, who wants his full attention, and an emotionally withdrawn wife grow increasingly troubled, lead him to call on a prostitute, whom he asks to coddle him like a mother.
In an interview with Rossiiskaia gazeta Kott, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, characterizes men of his generation—the generation portrayed in the film—as infantile (Al'perina 2011). He seeks to further emphasize the portrayal of his characters as a generation of emasculated men stunted in a kind of perpetual infancy via an oblique series of references to late Soviet children’s movies. The film’s title is taken from Roman Kachanov’s cartoon Secret of the Third Planet (Taina tret'ei planety, 1981), which features a loveable alien archeologist cyborg with three hearts named Gromozeka. The film’s characters named their high school band after the alien, not only because the three-hearted character served as an analogy for their musical trio, but also because its name is a composite of their own: Gromov, Mozerov, and Kaminskii. Cameo appearances by Dmitrii Iosifov, who played the lead role in The Adventures of Buratino (Prikliucheniia Buratino, dir. Leonid Nechaev, 1975), Iana Poplavskaia, who played Little Red Riding Hood (Pro Krasnuiu shapochku, dir. Leonid Necahev, 1977), and the Torsuev twins, who starred in Konstantin Bromberg’s cult classic The Adventures of the Electronic (Prikliucheniia Elektronika, 1980) punctuate the film. However, to anyone unfamiliar with these children’s movies or with what the childhood stars look like today, these references and cameos have minimal significance; they simply appear to be secondary or even tertiary characters.
With its focus on three despondent male characters bonded by a strong childhood friendship, Gromozeka contributes to the Russian buddy film genre, which employs intimate collectives of male characters suffering from a sense of uncertainty and emasculation as they fail to find ways to assert themselves in their changing cultural milieus. Examples of the genre span at least four decades. Take, for instance, Dmitrii D'iachenko box office hit of 2010, What Men Talk About (O chem govoriat muzhchiny 2010). Though distinguished by its humor, it similarly follows—and listens to—four childhood friends now in their late thirties, who, while on a road trip to Odessa, engage in an ongoing conversation covering all of middle-aged life’s travails. Kott seems to borrow from D'iachenko, who similarly highlights his characters’ perpetual youth with references to favorite childhood films. A second, earlier, example, Andrei Smirnov’s Belorussian Station (Belorusskii vokzal), made during Kott’s own infancy in 1970, also features a reunion of old friends (in this instance four World War Two veterans), and in a key scene similarly depicts its middle-aged protagonists as little boys. When they visit a nurse and dear friend from the war, the four men stand shirtless and bent over a bathtub, as she bathes them. Mimicking a mother’s caring, loving, and distinctly asexual gaze, she appraises their bodies and lovingly criticizes their potbellies, and later tucks her boys into bed, thus underscoring their infantile needs. Thus, while Kott may be fair in defining his generation as stuck in a perpetual stage of immaturity, it is necessary to point out that such cinematic portrayals of male midlife crisis are not so much generationally specific, as they are specific to this particular genre.
This is not to suggest that Gromozeka is without stylistic innovations. Whereas most examples of the Russian buddy film prefer a public to a private setting in order to emphasize the characters’ displacement from their contemporary world, Kott favors the home, the workplace, and the apartment building elevator. In the solitary confinement of the elevator, Kaminskii and Gromov (separately) practice the speeches they want to tell their wives. [GROMOZEKA 3] Shot in close-up, and sometimes with an elevator’s mirror reflecting an image of the man back to himself, these bold admissions reveal the characters’ secret desires: Gromov wants his wife to think of him as a hero; and Kaminskii rehearses telling his wife that he is done lying and that he has fallen in love with another. As the characters then enter the darkly shaded intimate settings of their homes, their previous bold admissions become jumbled messes of inarticulate and hesitant sentences, and the sense of dejection, frustration, and loneliness becomes all the more palpably excruciating.
Furthermore, because each character appears predominantly at home or at work, the trio only appears on screen together twice: first during the introductory episode and then again in a similarly tacked-on concluding sequence. On one hand, this further accentuates the portrayal of the men as forsaken and abandoned—they don’t even have one another. On the other hand, the result is a film comprised of three distinct narrative lines that never meaningfully intersect.
Gromozeka debuted in February 2011 at the 22nd Rotterdam Film Festival. It has also been shown at Kinotavr (May 2011), the “Stalker” festival in Kursk, and in Taganrog. Though the film has not had wide release in the theaters, it can anticipate decent viewership: the Russian television station NTV has bought the film’s rights and will most likely bring the film to its television audiences.
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Al'perina, Susanna (2011), “God Kotta: Fil'm rossiiskogo rezhissera ‘Gromozeka’ predstavliaet Rossiiu na Rotterdamskom kinofestivale,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 4 February.
Doubivko, Lena (2010), “What Men Talk About” (review), Kinokultura 29.
Gromozeka, Russia, 2011
104 mins, color (16-to-35mm)
Director: Vladimir Kott
Script: Vladimir Kott
Directors of Photography: Ruslan Gerasimenkov, Grigorii Volodin
Cast: Nikolai Dobrynin, Leonid Gromov, Boris Kamorzin, Evgeniia Dobrovol'skaia, Polina
Filonenko, Dar'ia Semenova, Ol'ga Onishchenko
Producer: Evgenii Gindilis
Production: TVIndie Film Production in association with NTV
Vladimir Kott: Gromozeka (2011)
reviewed by Dawn Seckler © 2011