Issue 39 (2013)

Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev: I Don’t Love You (Ia tebia ne liubliu, 2012)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2013


Pavel Kostomarov’s and Aleksandr Rastorguev’s I Don’t Love You is the second installment of their “beyond-the-documentary” trilogy (“zadokumental'naia istoriia”). Although the film’s title negates its older sibling, I Love You (2010), the newer I Don’t Love You offers little formal progression or deviation. I Don’t Love You is more of a continuation of filming practices than a project that builds upon the first segment. The filmmakers chose a student and store clerk from their hometown Rostov-on-Don, Viktoriia Shevtsova (Vika), from amongst 1600 people who auditioned for the part. She carried her personal camera and shot scenes for three and a half years while Kostomarov and Rastorguev were finishing the first film.

ne liubliuI Don’t Love You is a simplified, tighter version of its predecessor, and one main reason explains why. I Love You was never sold for distribution, and its only successes came in the film festival circuit and small film clubs in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Volgograd. The Russian Cinema Cultural Fund financed the first film, but did not for the second. I Don’t Love You continues to cater to the art-house film crowd, but it does so with one foot stepping out the door. It gestures to meet the needs of the reality television show audience and market.[1] Unlike the first film, there is barely any sexual content, and the swearword-laden dialogue has been cleaned up. As the directors mention, I Don’t Love You could even be aired on television (Tuula). It remains to be seen if this move will create greater success than its predecessor.

In a November 2012 interview, Rastorguev readdressed his 2009 manifesto of filmmaking, “Kinoprobes” (“Kinoproby”), noting that the proclamations of new filmmaking were not as bold as they once appeared, and that manifestos are simply a method of marketing to acquire money for new projects. It is not surprising to the director that “all manifestos come out of idleness” (Baranivs'ka). Similarly bemoaning the difficulty in finding money for film production, director Vitalii Manskii mentioned how filmmakers are turning toward new forms of cheaper “amateur” filmmaking: “You can’t make a film for $30,000 in Russia, when sound and a good cameraman cost $1,000 per filming day, and flights in Russia are twice as expensive as they are in Europe. So directors film using mini-cameras. They edit on lap-tops [sic], record their own music and text. But that’s not cinema, it’s amateur art” (Shakirov). Manskii went on in the same interview to say that there are only six directors who are guaranteed state funding in Russia today, including Rastorguev . With the state’s recent control over the Russian Cultural Fund, the funding of art-house, festival targeted films is in question, especially for documentary filmmaking. Cultural Minister Vladimir Medinskii has already proclaimed that the Russian film industry should be making commercial films aimed at the mass Russian audience. While Rastorguev was included on Manskii’s list, his and Kostomarov’s most current projects, I Don’t Love You and The Term (Srok [2012]), have unsurprisingly not received state backing.[2]

ne liubliuUnlike The Term, I Don’t Love You is seemingly an innocuous piece. The directors created an ongoing script out of Vika’s footage that covers the course of two relationships. Kostomarov and Rastorguev often describe creating the film as a process of cooking or building with Legos. They use whichever ingredients they can forage or the available pre-formed blocks that come in a toy set. While I Love You cut between multiple relationships and a large number of subjects, I Don’t Love You features a simple love triangle among Vika, her first boyfriend Artem, and her second boyfriend Zhenia. The two boyfriends are completely different in nature. Artem is the creative type, a rock musician, but without manners and money. Vika complains that he has no shame, evident in his willingness to steal a free ride on the bus. Zhenia, on the other hand, owns a car, works in the business of sausage distribution, but offers little provoking thought. Practical and calculating, he is depicted as emotionless, preoccupied with customizing his Lada automobile.

The film does not offer a clear-cut approval or condemnation of either boyfriend or of Vika herself. Reality television often invites the indictment of those on screen, but I don’t think this a game in which Kostomarov and Rastorguev are interested. The filmic construction of Vika’s three years does not culminate in a dramatic conclusion. It is instead composed of amusing everyday episodes involving the subjects. Kostomarov and Rastorguev do not look for any hidden meaning or significance within the story itself. They are more interested in how we watch the so-called “reality” show. The directors want the viewer to be aware of what he or she is watching.

The film forces the viewer to keep track of many moments in order to make sense of the chronology. Time is loosely marked, skipping from a snowy winter to summer without notice. The viewer has to be aware of jump cuts, noting what is omitted, and what has perhaps taken place in between moments when the camera is turned on and off. For example, we do not see Vika and Zhenia’s first kiss. The camera is turned off just before it happens, and the exploit is only confirmed in the next scene when Vika jumps in the car and yells “Hurrah!” While watching the film, the audience becomes extremely aware of camera movement, which has distinct angles and axes as part of the self-made process.

Two types of shots epitomize the “beyond-documentary” style. When a person is shooting, they will often flip the camera back toward their face. In this quick move that flips back to the self, the camera barrels over and finds the operator. The observer becomes the observed and the act of self-examination becomes more apparent. Kostomarov and Rastorguev play with these shots throughout the film. In one scene, Artem rotates the camera back toward himself, and just as it reaches him, the movement drags the viewer into a coupled shot, where Vika is filming and flips the camera back on herself. What happens in this instant sutures two completely different scenes, which is not noticeable at first. This seamless change marks a new chapter in the film, however, as Vika is on the way to her first date with Zhenia.

ne liubliuThe second typical shot draws attention to the physical placement of the camera. Kostomarov and Rastorguev rarely edit out these moments when Vika, Artem, or Zhenia set the rolling camera in place before shooting. This setting up of the mise-en-scène becomes very obvious to the viewer, as it slows down the action. These scenes resemble the action-cut sequence of a film, the moments that take place just before shooting. They make the audience aware of the film’s skeletal construction and that the camera does more than simply record. It has a physical presence behind the shot. Kostomarov has noted that the form allows a distancing between the subjects and the documentary filmmaker, who no longer has to be “the fly on the wall.” Rastorguev likewise comments on the film’s move away from these documentary conventions, stating that he does not know why the first installment was even included in documentary film festivals (“Kostomarov i Rastorguev o fil'me”). The awareness of the subject as cameraman creates a performative aspect to the film, and they act out everyday life differently from how they would in the directors’ presence.

I had mentioned in my previous review of I Love You that Kostomarov and Rastorguev act as puppeteers, positioning their marionette actors/cameramen. I think it is appropriate to revise my comments on the filmmaking process for both of these films. Unlike reality television, these two films do not prey on or manipulate their subjects, but rather serve as an appreciation of amateur camerawork. Kostomarov and Rastorguev share their sense of novelty at watching the amateur cameraman take up a craft that is very dear to them. In this sense, it is not surprising that film and television have ubiquitously imitated amateur self-made camera aesthetics, from the found footage genre to reality show “confessional booths.” Praise for the amateur was confirmed at the 2012 Kinotavr Film Festival, where Shevtsova herself won an award for her camerawork. It was the only award the film received.

It is impossible to place I Don't Love You within a single genre, but the film's non-sensical amusement and amateur gaze can be best described as a trashy online video (“govnovideo”), a term the directors welcome (Baranivs'ka). The film admires play with the apparatus over using it for any demiurgic fashioning. It should be an interesting change that the last film in the trilogy will prominently feature the camerawork of an artist, Vania, a marginal character that appeared in I Love You. While the project is in the works and Vania has already filmed the last four years, it is not clear whether the economic and political landscape surrounding the two directors and the Russian documentary industry will allow for a promising ending to the trilogy.


Notes

1] Since I Don’t Love You’s release, Shevtsova has received offers to appear on reality television shows, most notably on TNT Channel’s “House-2” (“Dom-2”). She has turned down offers while finishing her university degree.

2] Kostomarov’s apartment was raided on the morning of 7 December 2012, as authorities searched for interview clips from The Term.


Andrew Chapman
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Baranivs'ka, Marina. “Aleksandr Rastorguev: ‘Govnovideo’ – ochen' khoroshee opredelenie dlia iskusstva.” Telekritika.ua. 11 Nov. 2012.  

“Kostomarov i Rastorguev o fil'me ‘Ia tebia ne liubliu.’” YouTube.com. 23 May 2012.

Shakirov, Mumin. “Russian documentary film: extinct, or almost. Interview with Vitaly Mansky.” OpenDemocracy.net. 6 Sept. 2010.

Tuula, Maksim. “Kinotavr: Liubut – ne liubit.” Variety Russia. 7 Jun. 2012.

 


I Don’t Love You, Russia-Estonia, 2012
85 mins, color
Director: Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev
Scriptwriter: Susanna Baranzhieva
Director of Photography: Viktoriia Shevtsova
Editing: Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev
Cast: Viktoriia Shevtsova, Evgenii Borisov, Artem Sotnikov
Producers: Andrei Sigle, Pavel Kostomarov, Alexander Rastorguev, Pavel Pechenkin, Vladimir Sokolov, Maksim Tuula, Mariia Gavrilova
Production: Lenfil'm Production Center, ProLine Film, Novyi kurs, Marx Film (Estonia)
Awards: Special Jury Diploma “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to Viktoriia Shevtsova

Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev: I Don’t Love You (Ia tebia ne liubliu, 2012)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2013

Updated: 05 Jan 13