Issue 36 (2012)

Avdot’ia Smirnova: Two Days (2 dnia, 2011)

reviewed by Stephen M. Norris © 2012

twodaysAvdot’ia Smirnova’s latest film opened the 2011 Kinotavr Festival and closed the 2011 Russian competition at the Moscow International Film festival. Two Days comes after her work as screenwriter for Aleksei Uchitel’, including his films His Wife’s Diary (2000) and The Stroll (2002); and her directorial work on 2006’s Relations and the 2008 television adaptation of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. In many ways, Two Days brings into focus the two major themes of Smirnova’s cinematic oeuvre: Russia’s cultural-literary heritage and the changes brought to the country after communism. Her previous films took up one theme or the other: His Wife’s Diary was about Ivan Bunin; The Stroll about young Petersburgers in a changed city; Relations was about an extramarital affair conducted across Russia’s two major cities. Two Days brings these themes together: at its core, it is concerned with preserving Russian cultural traditions in the face of rapid change.

twodaysTwo Days is also a romantic comedy, one that mostly follows the conventions of British romantic comedies starring Hugh Grant (not just, as will become clearer below, an arbitrary comparison). Smirnova effectively marries this genre to Russian themes and situations. The film stars Fedor Bondarchuk as a Moscow Deputy Minister named Petr Drozdov. He has been dispatched to a museum estate preserving the memory of a long-forgotten Russian writer who had become famous mostly for his friendships with other famous writers of the 19th Century but also for writing a book no one reads anymore (the writer, Shcheglovitov, is a fictional creation). The museum is run by a dedicated bibliophile and literary critic, Masha, played by Kseniia Rappoport. Drozdov’s mission is clear: the region’s governor wants the 19th Century manor and wants the Moscow minister to visit and to confirm that the current museum-estate serves no useful purpose. As Vladimir Liashchenko of Gazeta.ru has characterized the film, it is therefore about “the classic Russian conflict between power [vlast’] and the intelligentsia.”

twodaysThis classic conflict, however, comes packaged in the style of a classic British romcom. Over the course of the next two days, Drozdov changes his views about the museum-estate. He samples local moonshine and local food while conversing with the museum’s employees. He witnesses the ignorance some contemporary Russians possess toward their literary heritage, however seemingly insignificant. In one scene, a wedding party that has hired out the estate for their reception vandalizes the place; one wedding guest carves his name on a tree that Tolstoy had planted. Drozdov gets a view, therefore, of what will happen to the place if it becomes the private property of a Russian political figure. Most importantly, however, Drozdov changes because of his ongoing relationship with Masha. The two quarrel, debate, get involved in minor escapades and, inevitably, fall in love. Their personalities allow Smirnova to juxtapose a view of a quaint Russian countryside (Masha tends goats and lives in a wooden izba) with the cold, clean, new Moscow (Drozdov eats with his girlfriend in a fashionable, sleek restaurant). As Smirnova has stated, their affair follows the conventions of the genre, which dictates that “the impossible is possible” (quoted in Mamadnazarbekova). Drozdov manages to get himself appointed as the new governor of the region, breaks up with his beautiful, young Moscow girlfriend, and moves to the countryside, promising to keep the museum open. The film concludes with the two arguing about the future in her yard while the goats graze.

twodaysSmirnova has made no bones about the fact that she made a film designed to appeal to a broad audience and in the style of a romantic comedy. As she told a Seans interviewer, she wanted to film a “quality mainstream [kachestvennyi meinstrim]” comedy modeled after English romcoms, particularly Four Weddings and a Funeral. At the same time—and because of her appreciation of the British genre—she wanted to make something “that would not be banal or frivolous” (Mamadnazarbekova). Smirnova’s Russian romcom fulfills this task by wrapping a serious, topical discussion into the film’s plot: the intertwined fates of the Russian intelligentsia and the cultural heritage of the past. Masha passionately argues with Drozdov about the necessity of keeping the museum open and defends its traditions on the grounds that contemporary Russians need exposure to great literature and great ideas. As she tells Drozdov, the failure to preserve 19th-century noble culture—however obscure—helps to foster “a nation of idiots and criminals.” Smirnova also successfully explains Drozdov’s view, one that is unsentimental and that initially interprets the Mashas of the world as “idealistic whiners.” Including this discussion as a major part of the movie, Smirnova argued, would help her make “an intelligent genre picture using Russian material,” one where “after watching it, no one would leave ashamed.” She acknowledges that while she hates happy-endings, audiences often want to leave the theater smiling. At the same time, as she has claimed, her real mission is quite clear: “what has happened to museums and estates is a national disgrace” and while culture may be seen as “a luxury” by some, it matters. Russia’s literary-cultural heritage, Smirnova has opined, is often best kept in provincial museums where “heroic people” work on “obscene wages” in order to preserve the nation’s cultural memory (quoted in Mamadnazarbekova).

twodays
twodays

In making this type of film, Smirnova has, as one reviewer aptly put it, managed to demonstrate that “a patriotic premise in a romantic comedy is not only possible, it is also not obligated to look like party PR” (Liashchenko). It is a patriotism based on love for Russian literature and support for the Russian intelligentsia; a sentiment expressed throughout Smirnova’s work and one she has given voice to. “It is important to me that two of my three films were filmed on old estates,” she has told an interviewer (Mamadnazarbekova), for this setting expresses the Russia she wants preserved.

Stephen M. Norris
Miami University

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Works Cited

Liashchenko, Vladimir, “Dni utopia.” Gazeta.ru, 6 September 2011.

Mamadnazarbekova, Kamila, “‘Ia nenavizhu kheppi-endy’.” Seans, 4 June 2011.

 


Two Days, Russia, 2011
Color, 90 minutes
Director: Avdot’ia Smirnova
Screenplay: Avdot’ia Smirnova, Anna Parmas
Camera Maksim Osadchii
Cast: Kseniia Rappoport, Fedor Bondarchuk, Irina Rozanova, Evgenii Muravich, Gennadii Smirnov, Lesia Kudriashova, Konstantin Shelestun
Producers: Fedor Bondarchuk, Dmitrii Rudovskii
Production “Central Partnership”, “Art Pictures Studio”

Avdot’ia Smirnova: Two Days (2 dnia, 2011)

reviewed by Stephen M. Norris © 2012

Updated: 09 May 12