Issue 41 (2013)
Sonia Karpunina: It’s Simple (Vse prosto, 2012)
reviewed by Vincent Bohlinger © 2013
It’s Simple offers us a few tumultuous days in the life of Nadia (Sonia Karpunina), a college student with a beauty and composure reminiscent of Julia Ormond. Nadia studies in London, but travels to Moscow from St Petersburg on the high-speed Sapsan for a surprise visit to her longtime boyfriend Zhenia (Konstantin Kriukov). After arriving at the Leningrad train station, Zhenia has an uncomfortable encounter with Maksim (Aleksandr Samoilenko), an older man who chats up Nadia on the train. Maksim is possibly deranged, but at this point he is certainly drunk. At Zhenia’s apartment, Nadia finds an expensive woman’s ring on the carpet beside his bed. While they head to dinner in Zhenia’s Jaguar, he fails to offer a plausible explanation as to the ring’s origin and Nadia rushes off and grabs a taxi. She ends up at a Jean-Jacques (Zhan-Zhak) café, where she meets up with Dina (Agniia Kuznetsova), a rambunctious, fun-loving friend from high school. Dina’s boyfriend Sania (Artem Bystrov) arrives in time to pay their bar tab and Sania, an aspiring actor and terribly reckless driver, shuttles them off with the promise of more fun. When they arrive at the address of the party, however, they learn that it is already over—but not for long. There, Nadia meets Boria (Klim Shipenko), a mildly brooding hipster filmmaker. Despite Nadia’s pouty preoccupations and Boria’s measured disinterest, their mutual attraction and chemistry are clear. The next days bear witness to burgeoning love, awkward misunderstandings, small-world coincidences, and tragic loss. Within a week, Nadia is back on the train to St Petersburg with a new love in her life.
The film comes from the real-life wife and husband team of Sonia Karpunina and Klim Shipenko. Together they wrote the screenplay, with Karpunina directing and Shipenko serving as one of the film’s producers. We follow a conventional romantic plotline that moves us from an established-but-false couple to a new pairing we long recognize as better suited. As Karpunina and Shipenko themselves each play leads in the film, it seems a foregone conclusion that they were made for each other. In such romances, the false couple is typically marked as incompatible due to some kind of obstacle. For Nadia and Zhenia, that obstacle is not immediately clear. Their professed problem is distance: after graduating, Zhenia took off for lucrative work in Moscow and left Nadia to finish school all alone in London. Yet there are passages throughout the film in which the camera flashily speeds either to or across Moscow. These quickly edited rapid-motion sequences suggest that the obstacle of space is easily surmountable. Beyond the basic question of fidelity, then, there only seem to be minor personality differences. Both Nadia and Zhenia are conspicuous consumers, even if Zhenia might be a bit more vocal about his purchasing power.
What attracts Nadia and Boria is just as enigmatic. When Boria shows Nadia the film he has made, for example, she is entirely incapable of appreciation, or even of staying awake. Their ensuing argument lacks the sparky-snarky give-and-take that marks the pleasurable union of a screwball comedy couple. For all their verbalizing, Nadia and her friends and lovers rarely seem to really talk. Moreover, the film has a tendency to pull the audience away from the most intimate moments between characters. Slow motion, more distant framing, and musical interludes are often used in key scenes to obscure the conversations. Such a strategy evokes a sense of a private shared bond, exclusive of the audience, but it also denies us greater access to these characters’ thoughts and feelings. What we are left with are mostly moments of physicality, drunken revelry, and other jolly good times.
Still waters sometimes do not run deep, so maybe there is deliberately not much depth to these characters after all. The most telling moment in the film comes during a scene at a concert, when a camera is suddenly thrust before Nadia and she is asked what she thinks of the President of the Russian Federation. Nadia looks bewildered and stammers that she “does not know and does not actually think” before the interviewer rushes off. If the film has a critical stance, it lies in the entirely apolitical nature of these characters. They are all presented as remarkably cosmopolitan and educated with an international mindset. The dialog and mise-en-scene of the film showcase these characters’ musical and cinematic preferences for the likes of Bob Marley, Depeche Mode, Marlon Brando, François Truffaut, and Wong Kar-wai. As for their literary tastes, direct references are made to Chekhov, Ovid, Twain, Hemingway, Pushkin, Akhmatova, Cervantes, Maiakovskii, Gogol', and, most notably, Apollinaire. Even the mathematician Grigorii Perel'man is tossed in. Unquestionably these characters are to be thought of as both educated and hip, so the deliberate lack of political concern—or at least awareness—is rather glaring.
With all of its cultured references, the film seems to cater to a more sophisticated audience, one that would appreciate the clever allusions to cinematic forebears which pop up throughout the film. It has a polish and gloss, with a particularly great sense of color, yet maintains something of an amateur feel, in no small part due to several curious errors in continuity concerning makeup, prop placement, and background figure movement across the film. One therefore cannot help think that the obfuscation of the political beliefs and activities of these characters is an intentional appeal to this audience. Or is it a warning? The film, released in December 2012, was made against the backdrop of the anti-Putin protests that carried on well before and after the March 2012 election which brought Putin back to an unprecedented third term as President. One of the earliest jokes in the film occurs when Maksim shows Nadia a card/magnet with a holographic image of Medvedev morphing into Putin morphing back into Medvedev morphing back into Putin. Nadia smirks and says nothing, and Maksim returns the card to his pocket. Maksim, it should be noted, is of the older generation and is shown to be rather buffoonish, and the card’s reappearance later in the film has more to do with triggering memory than a political statement. Dina even proclaims to Nadia at one point that everyone in Russia knows politics (along with football and poetry), but would Dina or any of these friends be found at a rally? When Nadia is later confronted with the footage from her interview professing no opinion to the Russian presidency, she says it is a shame—but is it shown as such?
The film perhaps offers its audience an enticing alternative to political life, a slick endorsement of the status quo. If you, like these characters, stay resolutely apolitical, you, too, can almost have it all. Be forewarned: life is not without heartaches, one of which being the exquisite agony of having to choose between a svelte cocky brunette and a hunky bohemian strawberry blonde. Plus there is the strapping, doe-eyed, dark-haired foreigner who, if he is not carrying a torch for you, is at least willing to pay for your room at the Peter I Hotel on Neglinnaia and offer you spending money for taxi and other incidentals. One need not hold down a job—or even ever have any money to speak of—to revel in a fabulous life of designer clothes, a Chanel handbag, Louis Vuitton luggage, and a matching pearl necklace, bracelet, and earring set. What is the young educated elite to do: march in the frozen streets with the old folks or party on in a spectacular wardrobe with an array of dashing suitors? The choice? Really, it’s simple.
Rhode Island College
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It’s Simple, Russian Federation, 2012
Color, 98 min.
Director: Sonia Karpunina
Scriptwriter: Sonia Karpunina, Klim Shipenko
Director of Photography: Andrei Ivanov
Production Design: Ul’iana Riabova
Music: Galia Chikis
Sound: Boris Voit
Editing: Tim Pavelko
Executive Producer: Aleksandr Sotnikov
Producers: Timur Vainshtein, Klim Shipenko, Andrei Malyshev, Vladimir Malyshev
Cast: Sonia Karpunina, Klim Shipenko, Agniia Kuznetsova, Aleksandr Iatsenko, Konstantin Kriukov, Artem Bystrov, Liubov’ Tolkalina, Aleksandr Samoilenko, Mikhail Babichev, Donatas Grudovich, Mateush Damietski, Alina Alekseeva, Gela Meskhi, Vadim Vernik, Vadim Perel’man
Production Company: Weit Media, Paradiz
Sonia Karpunina: It’s Simple (Vse prosto, 2012)
reviewed by Vincent Bohlinger © 2013