Issue 36 (2012)
Roman Karimov: Into Smithereens (Vdrebezgi, 2011)
reviewed by Olga Klimova © 2012
Into Smithereens is the second full-length feature film by a young director, Roman Karimov, whose debut film, Inappropriate People (Neadekvatnye liudi, 2010), received a number of national and international awards. The wide success of Inappropriate People among the audience and film critics has led to exaggerated criticism and negative reviews of Karimov’s second film. Due to many film critics’ high expectations from Karimov as a new “promising” director, Into Smithereens was panned for “empty dialogues,” “the director’s scornful attitude toward his characters,” and weak dramaturgy. Besides directing Into Smithereens, Karimov also edited it, wrote the script, and composed the score for it together with Konstantin Chalykh. Unlike the deliberately chosen inexperienced cast in his debut film, the actors and actresses in Into Smithereens already had some acting experience and are familiar to Russian audiences . They include Ivan Nikolaev (Fedor Bondarchuk’s Company 9, 2005, Anna Melikian’s Mermaid, 2007, and Feliks Mikhailov’s Jolly Fellows, 2009), Ravshana Kurkova (Aleksandr Mokhov’s TV series Buddies, 2009, Zinovii Roizman’s TV series The Officers 2: Everything Will Be Good, 2009, and Marius Balchunas’s Love in the Big City 2, 2010), Artem Tkachenko (Filipp Iankovskii’s The Sword Bearer, 2006 and Roman Prygunov’s Indigo, 2008), and a DJ from the radio station “Ekho Moskvy,” Aleksandr Pliushchev.
Karimov has a tendency to play with Hollywood genres. If his first film includes genre formulas of melodrama and comedy, Into Smithereens incorporates elements of the action film, the crime film, and the “black comedy.” Each part of the film also mimics the “road movie,” “scary movie,” and “film noir”; however, by the end, the genre formulas of American counterparts are modified or even deconstructed. Some critics (Stepnova, Liashchenko) also consider Into Smithereens a dilettante endeavor to make a film similar to films directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Indeed, Karimov attempts to put together different horror stories about murder, infidelity, perversion, and impudence under one title, similar to Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse (2007). Crime, perversion, and violence become the film’s leitmotifs.
Into Smithereens represents a multi-narrative film with a variety of characters along with the mosaic of genres. The director’s choices for the main protagonists include a sexual pervert, a pair of murderous teenage escapees from a mental hospital, a mean radio DJ, Kirill, a mercantile director of the radio station, a self-centered businessman obsessed with his new Mustang, an egotistic policeman, a spineless unemployed man Igor', his beautiful wife Bonnie, and her psychotic boss-lover Erik. Karimov structures his film in the form of three novellas, which have their own narrative and characters, and which, in the fourth part of the film, merge into one story. The connection among the three parts is also established through radio shows and occasional cameos of the characters from one film novella in another.
In general, the cinematic technique of combining different stories under one principal idea is not new and has been used and reused multiple times in the history of world cinema, for instance, in Vincente Minnelli and Gottfried Reinhardt’s The Story of Three Loves (1953), Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese’s New York Stories (1989), Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), and Kira Muratova’s Three Stories (Tri istorii, 1997). In Karimov’s Into Smithereens, this central idea remains unclear for almost the entire film, and only in the conclusion is it finally revealed as a punishment for all who have morally digressed. To assist the viewer in following the narrative, the director assigns titles to each novella: “Selma and Kvalda,” “The Theater of Silent Sculptures,” “A Birthday Gift,” and “The Final.”
Karimov begins his first novella with a short episode from the life of a middle-age man, a plumber, according to the sign on his van. He is a loner and suffers from sexual perversions, which is evident from his lustful gazes at high school girls and his van full of Barbies and stuffed animals. His only “real” communication occurs with a sarcastic radio DJ over the phone and an inflatable doll in his van. Gradually, the narrative transforms into a “Thelma and Louise” story with two young girls going on a road trip after their encounter with the plumber. The title of this part, “Selma and Kvalda,” also serves as a displaced allusion to the famous American “road movie,” which involves two female protagonists punishing male wrong-doers. Similarly to Ridley Scott in Thelma and Louise, Karimov focuses on the teenage girls’ revenge on the male world; however, the director does not reveal the motivation for their actions. In this novella, along with the negative depiction of characters, Karimov also creates a very bleak view of the provinces: a gas station without gas, an old and filthy café with the ironic name “Comfort,” and a local policeman who takes pictures of his bloody “achievements” with his cell phone.
In the second part, “The Theater of Silent Sculptures,” the main protagonist, Kirill, whose radio show mainly involves attacking and making fun of his listeners, is kidnapped and brought to an abandoned house filled with old furniture and strange sculptures. He encounters a monstrous character who suggests that Kirill and he are alike. Thus, Kirill, with his disrespect and even disgust for his listeners, is compared to a monster, who, presumably, kills people. In this scene, by using a blue filter and extensive shadows, Karimov achieves an effect of suspense and terror, typical of Hollywood horror films. Even the setting in this episode is reminiscent of Michael Curtiz’s Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and its remakes— André de Toth’s House of Wax (1953) and Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax (2005). For some time, the viewers are tricked together with the main protagonist into believing that the director plans to conclude the scene in which Kirill sees embalmed and dead bodies with some horrifying, bloody climax. However, to the viewers’ surprise, this novella metamorphoses into a psychological drama with some comic elements.
The third novella, “A Birthday Gift,” follows the genre conventions of Hollywood film noir. Karimov abides by the rules of this genre, first of all, in the choice of characters. There is a beautiful dark-haired femme fatale, Bonnie, who, together with her lover, Erik, plots to eliminate her simpleton-husband. The female character’s name also serves as a reference to an infamous American criminal couple—Bonnie and Clyde. If the Russian Bonnie is the master mind behind the crime, Erik, with his sadistic urges, is the executor of her immoral plans. Karimov modifies the narrative of film noir and adds another pair of characters to this novella—Bonnie’s sister, Alisa, and her weak, socially awkward husband, Sidor. This couple to some extent mirrors Bonnie and Erik: passive Sidor is entirely subjugated by his wife. The director makes Alisa and Sidor essential elements of the scheme to complicate the noir narrative. At the same time, Karimov is not interested in the setting or style of the American genre, and the crime happens in the daylight in the comfortable and very domestic space of Bonnie’s cottage.
In the concluding part, Karimov brings the characters from the three novellas together in one final crash. The guilty are punished and the innocent are released. Into Smithereens suggests that there are more corrupt, perverse, violent, selfish, and one-dimensional people than sincere, kind, and altruistic ones. In the closing scene, Kirill and his pregnant wife get a chance to start over because they make a morally “correct” decision. As in his first film, the director idealizes a young couple and romanticizes the ending. The possibility of having a baby in the future can be interpreted as a metaphor for a potential moral renewal of young people in contemporary Russia. However, this moral redemption is not the focus of Karimov’s film. He inverts the Hollywood formula of happy endings and closes his film not with the happy couple moving toward the horizon, but with the “punishment” of the wrong-doers in the background. A pessimistic portrayal of the citizens of modern Russia, who are mainly represented by murderers, pedophiles, and money-lovers, is at the center of Into Smithereens, and the working title of the film—Absolute Evil—confirms this idea. Even though Karimov’s film was presented in the 2011 Kinotavr Film Festival, it received a wave of negative responses from film critics and Russian film audiences, which can be explained not only by the negative depiction of life in Russia, but also by Karimov’s “unpolished” game with Hollywood formulas and genres.
University of Pittsburgh
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Stepnova, Svetlana, “Ne vlezai! Ub’et!” Ruskino.ru
Liashchenko, Vladimir, “Neadekvatnye stali bezzhizennymi,” Gazeta.ru, 7 October 2011
Into Smithereens, 2011
Color, 84 minutes
Director: Roman Karimov
Script: Roman Karimov
Cinematography: Iurii Kokoshkin
Art Director: Vasilii Khodataev, Polina Mikitenko
Editing: Roman Karimov
Music: Konstantin Chalykh, Roman Karimov
Cast: Nikita Diuvbanov, Aleksandr Plushchev, Artem Tkachenko, Andris Gross, Ravshana Kurkova, Ivan Nikolaev, Aleksandr Dul'shchikov, Krisitna Kazurova, Ingrid Olerinskaia
Producer: Gevorg Nersisian, Armen Adilkhanian, Mikhail Kukushkin
Production company: Cinema Prime Film, Paradise Group
Roman Karimov: Into Smithereens (Vdrebezgi, 2011)
reviewed by Olga Klimova © 2012