Issue 34 (2011)

Levan Gabriadze: Lucky Trouble (Vykrutasy, 2011)

reviewed by Hillary Brevig © 2011

By all rights, Lucky Trouble should be a disaster. The plot is on the verge of being nauseatingly trite, the dialogue almost as bad, the number of genres and generic conventions jammed into one film almost inconceivable, the acting about what one would expect given the above…and yet the film somehow coalesces into something fairly watchable, although perhaps only if one is already inclined toward genre cinema.

vykrutasyThis is Levan Gabriadze’s first full-length film, and his cinematography owes much both to his advertizing background and to his producer, Timur Bekmambetov. In fact, for a number of reasons Lucky Trouble reads as a Bekmambetov film: a fast-paced plot, quick cuts, extensive use of slow motion and special effects (particularly Bekmambetov’s trademark use of slow motion capture of action that rapidly speeds back up to normal speed just before the cut), clear coding of good and evil characters, and heavy reliance on fate and chance meetings. And despite Gabriadze being the director of record, Lucky Trouble pitches itself as a Bekmambetov film, his name appearing on the second intertitle (immediately after the credit for funding from the Cinema Foundation [Fond kino]) in white on black before the presentation of any distracting visuals, while Gabriadze is not credited until the end of the film. As an emerging name in the feature-film industry, Gabriadze is smart to capitalize on Bekmametov’s superstar-director status to get his name out and bring audiences to theaters, but it is less clear if he is able to establish his own distinct directorial style, or whether this is a “workshop” film—one that Bekmambetov has sketched in detail and only then left Gabriadze to complete.

vykrutasyThe film follows the (mis)-adventures of the permanently disheveled sad-sack Slava Kolotilov (Konstantin Khabenskii, of Bekmambetov’s Night Watch [Nochnoi dozor, 2004]). Kolotilov’s luck seems to be changing when he meets the beautiful Nadia (Milla Jovovich) when she hits him with her car as she runs a red light, and one whirlwind Moscow romance later, she agrees to marry him. However, Kolotilov is not a permanent resident of the glamorous Moscow, and his trip from his podunk Pal’chiki back to Moscow and the wedding is fraught with obstacles—namely, that he never leaves. In a case of mistaken identity, Kolotilov is roped into coaching the Pal’chiki soccer team in the championship tournament, never mind that he knows nothing about soccer and has no team. Another coach, Khlybustin (Sergei Garmash), comes to his rescue by advising that Kolotilov find himself the worst team possible—one loss means elimination and freedom. With the help of the intrepid young pickpocket Sasha (Savva Gusev), Kolotilov quickly puts together a team of young hooligans he feels sure will have him on the way to Moscow in no time. But as usual, nothing goes according to plan and none of Kolotilov’s attempts to sabotage his team pay off. Meanwhile, Nadia carries on a seemingly never-ending wedding reception while trying to fend off her scheming mother (Galina Loginova) and ex-fiancé Dania (Ivan Urgant).

vykrutasyThe film cuts back and forth between Kolotilov in Pal’chiki and Nadia in Moscow, most often through the device of the text message. While this proves an efficient and economical device for shuttling between plot lines, the lingering shots of the conspicuously expensive mobile phones indicate that the device is perhaps less important than product placement. Although the logo on the iPhone is not visible, the screenshots are sufficiently familiar to make the logo irrelevant, particularly since the MacBook Pro is prominently featured in another scene. Other products are shot in similar ways: the milk Kolotilov uses to lure the feral kid out of his lair to play soccer, and the laxative “Slablin” are shot in much the same way, the camera returning again and again to the product label—likely a marker of Gabriadze’s time shooting television commercials.

vykrutasyThere remain a few incongruous moments in the film. The initial transition between Moscow and Pal’chiki is accomplished by an animated SMS envelope that flies over a cartoon map of Russia, from Nadia in Moscow to Kolotilov in Pal’chiki. Given that there is no other animation in the rest of the film, with the exception of some text in the opening credits, the choice of animation seems a curious one since the transition could easily have been accomplished by voiceover or onscreen text. Whether a nod to Gabriadze’s animation background at UCLA, where he studied design and animation in the early 1990s, or part of the cutesy aesthetic of the wedding storyline, the animation serves little purpose. The other incongruity concerns the two daydream sequences from Kolotilov and Nadia. Given that Gabriadze utilizes these fantasy sequences, it seems odd that he would not use them in other places in the film; particularly for the phone calls between Nadia and Kolotilov where he lies about why he is delayed, which would have lent themselves well to visual depiction. Perhaps these were left on the cutting room floor, but it seems a rather obvious missed opportunity to make the most of depicting internal and alternate reality that Gabriadze does so well in other places.

vykrutasyThe title of the film turns out to be particularly apt, meaning “intricate movements” or “flourishes.” While this could apply simply to the various contortions one has to make in a relationship, it applies equally well to the way the children move on the soccer field, and especially the way that Gabriadze shuttles between genres. While the film begins as a romantic comedy of the “will-he-make-it-to-the-wedding?” variety, it quickly morphs into something else, as the wedding storyline is subsumed by the sports storyline. The final half-hour of the film bleeds into something else again, pulling in elements from crime and action films, complete with hired thugs and a rousing chase scene, which includes a harpooning. Russian websites add “melodrama” and “comedy” to the mix.

vykrutasySuch a mélange begs the question: Who is the target audience for this film? While the number and type of genres Gabriadze draws upon seem a truly unholy combination, he may in fact have hit upon the perfect formula for the family film: the wedding story for mom, sports and a bit of action for dad, and a storyline about kids for, well, kids. The constant intercutting between storylines ensures that all strands of the story are constantly present, as well as maintaining a rapid pace. Including a little something for everyone is a great draw for families, particularly those with enough disposable income to go to the movies. These tend to be the ones with the aspirations to the MacBooks and iPhones that Gabriadze eagerly highlights—the emerging middle class. Even the opening voiceover plays into middle-class aspirations: living the good life, being somebody, and being somebody in Moscow. The capital is where one goes to make oneself and one’s life—this does not happen in the provinces. Yet despite this delineation, the film is not about either the capital, the provinces, or even somewhere in between—themes too heavy for a fun, family-friendly film.

Gabriadze’s use of genres functions primarily as a type of shorthand rather than any deep engagement with them. He shamelessly uses cliché after cliché, but because of their density, the good-hearted parody is obvious; the fact that the film does not take itself too seriously is refreshing. Also, the action style Gabriadze borrows from Bekmambetov of slowing down action sequences only to speed up again just before the cut is used particularly effectively as a counterpoint to the saccharine of the romantic-comedy line, and works surprisingly well in some unexpected places. The surprising and successful innovative combination of genres and filmic techniques makes for a debut film that Gabriadze may find difficult to top.

Hillary Brevig
University of Pittsburgh

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Lucky Trouble, Russia, 2011
Color, 96 min
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Screenplay: Roman Nepomniashchii
Cinematography: Marat Adel’shin
Set Design: Fedor Sabel’ev
Music: Pavel Esenin
Editor: Aleksandr Andriushchenko
Sound: Ivan Titov
Cast: Konstantin Khabenskii, Milla Jovovich, Ivan Urgant, Sergei Garmash, Vladimir Men’shov, Ol’ga Tumaikina, Galina Loginova, Sergei Selin, Sergei Shekovtsov, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Aleksandr Robak, Roman Madianov, Tat’iana Liutaeva, Aleksandra Nazarova, Taisiia Vilkova, Savva Gusev, Misha Nikol’skii, Dima Gogu, Vania Demin, Gleb Stepanov, Sasha Rakhimbekov, Oleg Maslennikov, Dzhumber Ardishvili, Misha Gostishchev, Iura Gostishchev, Vania Slesarenko, Il’ia Sologub, Chicha
Producer: Karina Sinenko, Veta Krechetova, Iva Stromilova, Timur Bekmambetov
Production: Bazelevs Production

Levan Gabriadze: Lucky Trouble (Vykrutasy, 2011)

reviewed by Hillary Brevig © 2011