Issue 36 (2012)

Aleksei Popogrebskii, Andrei Zviagintsev, Petr Buslov, Aleksandr Veledinskii, and Igor’ Voloshin: Experiment 5IVE (2011)

reviewed by José Alaniz © 2012

Something to Chew On

fiveIn the 1990s, when the Russian film industry suffered near-collapse in the wake of post-Soviet economic tumult, many directors turned to short formats—TV series, public service announcements, commercials, music videos—as one of the few options for continuing work. In the second decade of the 21st century, with Russian cinema in much better shape by comparison, the conscious choice to dabble in the vignette form may appear in a different light: at best harmless diversion from “serious” work, at worst patron-pleasing affectation—a serious painter dashing off a cartoon for a quick buck.

The latter is unfortunately the impression given off by Experiment 5IVE, an anthology of five films of five minutes each by five well-known Russian directors, inspired and financed by the chewing gum company Wrigley. The idea derives from the fact that the brand’s 5IVE REACT gum has the curious feature of tasting differently for every person that tries it—hence the anthology’s press, hyping how each mini-film “offers to the viewer the opportunity to ponder the individuality and unrepeatability of his own perceptions” (5gum.ru).

fiveLike the consumer of 5IVE REACT, the five directors are all “reacting” to the same thing. As with previous anthology films, Experiment 5IVE relies on a loose framing device to link the separate episodes: a 30-second sequence displaying the inner workings of a camera as it takes a picture (of what—we can’t tell), then the resultant Polaroid snap being stuffed in a black envelope by a bald gentleman. The black envelope is opened by a character in each vignette, who discovers the photo is of himself at the moment he opens the envelope. The eerie reveal is the only obligatory element, common to all the films; everything else was left to the individual creator. Some take the envelope MacGuffin as an incidental facet of their story; while for others it becomes a critical plot point. (Each artist did not know what the others were doing.)

fiveBut, regrettably, this “experiment” demonstrates less the individuality of the directors’ responses to the same event than a common frustration at shoe-horning their visions into the 300-second format, which makes the episodes seem like trailers for longer works. There is a bigger problem, of course: though the producers and sponsors deny any advertising intent, Experiment 5IVE looks, feels, sounds and unfolds like a commercial—an elaborate, extended über-gimmicky commercial.  

This is no The Five Obstructions (De fem benspænd,Denmark, 2003), a perverse anthology film masterminded by Lars von Trier that actually does leave the viewer contemplating such things as choice, contingency, creative tyranny and aesthetic freedom. Instead, the forgettable Experiment 5IVE (I imagine many will find even the title irritating) lends each episode a superficial air with its silly, tiresome, ultimately meaningless noir framing sequence—which repeats five times, like a pin-ball machine spouting a new ball.  
 
fiveIt goes without saying these five directors [1] have done better work elsewhere: Igor Voloshin, whose Atlantika deals with a time travel plot involving the Titanic, steals his mise-en-scène from Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, and his ending from The Shining (Kubrick, USA, 1979); Aleksei Popogrebskii, who in the 3-D Bloodrop perhaps handles the format best by foregoing dialogue and psychology in favor of mind-twisting visuals; Petr Buslov, whose ambiguously “spiritual” Sunrise/Sunset explores reincarnation in India—though, as one critic noted, “You’ll see two or three films just like it at any student festival” (Priadkin); Aleksandr Veledinskii, who in The Portrait delivers the kernel of an interesting allegory about a “tagger” street artist imprisoned by two Amazons and forced to paint a picture for some obscure patron, experimenting fruitfully with color and black-and-white photography, conveying both an expansive scope as well as intense claustrophobia in his five minutes; and Andrei Zviagintsev, whose The Secret feels both too long and too short, as well as the most “commercial-like” in its suspicious wife/jaded private detective dialogue—so much so that one practically expects a tag line for diamonds or anti-perspirant to pop up at the end.

Experiment 5IVE is viewable online—a better option than paying to see it—and while not wholly embarrassing for those involved, the people who look best in this enterprise are the ones who didn’t take part. Chew on that.

Notes

1] Incidentally, why only men? One wonders how a director like Anna Melikyan, for example, or Renata Litvinova might have fared with such a premise. No worse, surely.


José Alaniz
University of Washington, Seattle

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Works Cited

Priadkin, Pavel. “Derzhi piat’!”. Film.ru 30 May 2011.


Experiment 5ive, Russia, 2011
Directed by Aleksei Popogrebsky, Igor’ Voloshin, Petr Buslov, Aleksandr Veledinskii, Andrei Zviagintsev
Produced by Karina Kabanova, Artem Vasil’ev (Metrafilm)

Sunrise/Sunset
Directed by Petr Buslov
Written by Petr Buslov, Aleksei Shipenko
Cinematographer: Aleksandr Simonov
Cast: Aleksei Shipenko

Portrait
Directed by Aleksandr Veledinskii
Written by Tat’iana Andriianova, Aleksandr Veledinskii
Cinematographer: Oleg Lukichev
Cast: Aleksei Filomonov, Olesia Kornilova, Iuliia Azarova

Atlantika
Directed by Igor’ Voloshin
Written by Igor’ Voloshin, Ol’ga Simonova
Cinematographer: Evgenii Ermolenko
Cast: Deni Lavan, Mark Barbe, Egor Simonov

The Secret
Directed by Andrei Zviagintsev
Written by Oleg Negin
Cinematographer: Mikhail Krichman
Cast: Igor Sergeev, Irina Barinova, Konstantin Demidov

Bloodrop
Written and directed by Aleksei Popogrebskii
Cinematographer: Peter Shtoiger
Cast: Grigorii Dobrygin, Ina Maria Iaikh

Aleksei Popogrebskii, Andrei Zviagintsev, Petr Buslov, Aleksandr Veledinskii, and Igor’ Voloshin: Experiment 5IVE (2011)

reviewed by José Alaniz © 2012

Updated: 09 May 12