Issue 44 (2014)
Mikhail Brashinsky: Shopping Tour (Shopping tur, 2012)
reviewed by Lars Kristensen © 2014
To scholars of Russian and Soviet cinema, Mikhail Brashinsky is film critic and a fellow academic with important publications to his name, such as the influential The Zero Hour: Glasnost and Soviet Cinema in Transition (edited with Andrew Horton 1992), and with important entries in the multi-volume Noveishchaia istoriia otechestvennogo kino (New History of Russian Cinema), edited by Liubov’ Arkus. To Russian cineastes, Brashinsky is a filmmaker and scriptwriter, whose first feature appeared on the screen ten years ago. Black Ice (Gololed, 2003) was a turbulent portrayal of a gay character having to deal with work, friends and conflicting identities. Already then, in the early 2000s, the fast pace cutting stood in sharp contrast to the norm of rhythmic and musical editing which was about the settle with an industry that seemed to have recuperated from the dizzy 1990s. Another way of contextualize Black Ice is to contrast its pace with Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark (Russkii kovcheg, 2003), which has famously no cuts at all but flows seamlessly through 300 years of Russian history.
This comparison points to the different outlook of Sokurov and Brashinsky, as well as to the impact of the films: where Sokurov’s film found audiences—and caressed audience’s taste for Russia—, Brashinsky’s film barely travelled abroad, since its narrative failed to capture the Russian stereotype. In other words, Brashinsky’s take on cinema is different than Sokurov’s, but he is nevertheless a filmmaker from whom we can (and maybe should) expect change and novelty. Shopping Tour does not disappoint in this regard: it surprises with its insights and commentary on contemporary living conditions in a way that nobody can feel safe in their role as spectator: everybody runs the risk of a stain of blood landing in their lap.
A mother and her son are travelling to Helsinki by bus. The mother, Katia (Tat’iana Kolganova), has given her son Stas (Timofei Eletskii) a mobile phone as a present. Stas, who is about to finish school, films constantly with the inbuilt camera of his phone and it is these images that we are watching. The mobile phone film is not a new phenomenon; indeed it is by now already a tried and tested concept, which has its own form and its own constraints. What we should ask of a mobile phone film is not whether it follows the aesthetics of low picture quality; rather, we should ask whether we are treated to cinematic spaces and narratives that would be off-limit for the conventional camera. Once we as audiences have accepted the concept of the mobile phone film, we have also agreed to a set of cinematic practices that are different from mainstream films. Escapism, too, can be political and powerful, but the mobile phone film offers something more intimate and personal. In a sense, we expect secrets to be revealed through the mobile phone format, something that cannot be achieved through traditional cinematic storytelling. Brashinsky’s film does precisely that: it reveals both little and big secrets of its main protagonists, thereby betraying its context and enquiry.
For example, the trip is presented as a shopping tour rather than a promised journey of bonding between mother and son. Moreover, we learn that the tour is motivated by the father’s death. Between the two characters little secrets are revealed: the mother secretly smokes, while the son skives off drinking beer. Larger questions remain unanswered, however: what, for example, did the mother do when she was abroad during the early 1990s? Stas has a strong sense that his mother was led astray before his father “saved” her from aboard, but we are never told the true story behind this. The most important of the exposed secrets is the coming-out-of-the-closet of young Stas, but in order for this to happen, the story needed something extraordinary to happen: Katia and Stas are attacked by zombies.
One third into the film, while safely beyond the Finnish border, the Russian shoppers find themselves at a Finnish shopping centre, which has opened specially out of hours for the sake of the Russians tourists. Soon after the usual hunt for cheap and utterly dispensable products, the shop manager discreetly closes the main entrance and the hunt for fresh meat of the Russians begins. At first Katia and Stas hide in the locker-room of the employees, but realize that this is not a safe place. Eventually, they manage to escape the shopping centre. Once on the outside, they believe to be safe and try to get to the nearest town to report the slaughter of the poor Russian shoppers. However, once they are spotted at the police station they are taken into custody. They are now the top prize for the captain, to be eaten at his private party later in the day.
In custody, mother and son find out that they have landed in the middle of the traditional midsummer celebration, when—so the story goes—the Finns devour foreigners at their table. The guy telling them this story is an Algerian imprisoned in the adjacent cell, who has survived many midsummer celebrations by hiding throughout this particular day, but failed to go undetected this year. Another way to survive this celebration as a foreigner, he claims, is by killing a zombie Finn. That way, the foreigner’s flesh ceases to be tasty. This information has a bearing on the development of the events, but that is not the crux of the film. The film is full of irony and clichés of the horror genre (Il’chenko 2013), but I would argue that Brashinsky’s eye for details with regard to differences makes this irrelevant. The zombie plot is not the focus, rather it is the comparison between the locals and the foreigners that gives the film its driving force.
Despite the proximity of Finland to Russia, Finns have not featured prominently in Soviet or Russian cinema. For post-Soviet Russian audiences, Finland chiefly appears in comedies where the two contrasting nationalities clash with burlesque consequences. Films such as Peculiarities of National Fishing (Osobennosti natsional’noi rybalki 1998) and The Cuckoo (Kukushka, 2002), both by Aleksandr Rogoshkin, are evidence of a Finland as the “Other” to Russia, but Shopping Tour is different in this regard. While verging on the border of comedy and carnage, the film lashes out both ways: at the Russians and the Finns. Whether this is due to the fact that Brashinsky himself commutes between St Petersburg and Turku (Khokhriakova 2013) or a result of the film being a co-production—the bottom line is that Shopping Tour remains in the no-man’s-land where the tourist bus makes a stop.
There is a clear commentary on materialistic shopping-hungry Russians smuggling wherever possible, but Finnish society is shown as equally essentialist and xenophobic, as the attitude to the Algerian man demonstrates. The focus on the midsummer celebration is spot-on in terms of pompous self-adulation: Captain Tuivisto, played by Finnish-Russian actor Vladimir Nekrasov, makes a little speech, telling his audience of how happy the Finns are—in fact, they are so happy that they commit suicide out of sheer happiness. For him, Katia and Stas are the ultimate prize of the evening, brought in to cries of “ah, those tasty Russians!”.
What is it that makes the Russians so tasty? Russians have never been welcomed with open arms in Western representations on the silver screen, regardless of the fact that Russian characters have always seen themselves as part of the European family. But there is something different in Shopping Tour, something more alluring to the Finns than a brotherhood of nations: Russian capital, Russia’s consumer power and its strong economy. Therefore they are so tasty for the Finns. The fact that this bottom-line analysis digresses into a zombie plot only underlines the overall capitalist numbness as an affective disease. The zombies are the embodiment of capitalism’s insatiable need to constantly colonize and conquer new territories, feeding on consumer desire for materialistic happiness. As Karl Marx pointed out centuries ago, this cycle of eating and being eaten is at the heart of the idea of capitalism. In this way, Shopping Tour offers a perceptive analysis of the value of Russian consumerism, in which global capitalism has reveled.
The final scene takes place at the back entrance of a shopping centre and further underlines the preoccupation of the “backside” of capitalism. Hiding between empty cardboard boxes, discarded EUR-pallets and products past their sell-by date, Katia and Stas try to sit out the remaining five hours of the day in order for the Finns to become normal again. This “backside” beyond the façade of consumer capitalism could be anywhere, but it is here that the Russians day-trippers will face their ultimate challenge: to eat or to be eaten.
Sadly, Shopping Tour has not taken off on a big scale in Russia, which is symptomatic of political cinema. Only about 15,000 people have seen the film in cinemas (according to KinoPoisk), which has prompted critics to ask question about the distribution pattern of small budget films like this one (Gladil’shchikov). Shopping Tour is a little gem in the cinematic output of post-Soviet Russian cinema. It demonstrates that alternative filmmaking can rise to the occasion and deliver products that are both cleverly made and insightful into the social condition. It does not matter that it took Brashinsky ten years to make his second feature, because it was well worth waiting for.
University of Skövde
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Gladil’schikov, Iurii (2013), “Mest’ i kannibaly,” Moskovskie novosti, 5 Dec. 2013,
Il’chenko, Sergei (2013), “Ne khotite, deti, v Khel’sinki guliat’…,” Nevskoe vremia, 5 Dec. 2013,
Khokhriakova, Svetlana (2013), “Zachem finny s’’eli russkikh,” Moskovskii komsomolets, 6 Dec. 2013.
Shopping Tour, Russia, 2012
Color, 70 minutes, Russian, Finnish and English
Written and directed by Mikhail Brashinsky
Producers: Gennadii Mirgorodskii, Mikhail Brashinsky
Director of Photography: Aleksandr Simonov
Costume Designer: Mark Lee
Sound: Antonina Balashova
Editing: Mikhail Brashinsky, Oleg Malygin, with Ivan Lebedev
Co-Producers: Zaur Bolotayev, Petr Gugkov
Cast: Tatiana Kolganova, Timofei Eletskii, Tat'iana Riabokon, Aleksandr Lutov, Vladimir Nekrassov
Production Manager (Finland): Maria Lappalainen
Production: DUTY-FREE PRODUCTIONS
Mikhail Brashinsky: Shopping Tour (Shopping tur, 2012)
reviewed by Lars Kristensen © 2014