Issue 45 (2014)

Viktor Shamirov: This is What Happens to Me (So mnoiu vot shto proiskhodit, 2012)

reviewed by Olga Kim© 2014

Theater and film director Viktor Shamirov’s This is What Happens to Me is his third—after Holiday-Makers (Dikari, 2006) and Exercises in Beauty (Uprazhneniia v prekrasnom, 2011)—cinematic collaboration with Gosha Kutsenko. Their theatrical collaboration has even longer history. This film in many respects repeats an already established signature of their films: subtle dialogues of a chamber play and compelling acting. Compared to the two previous films, This is What Happens to Me even more clearly adheres to the framework of a chamber play and builds its story upon an ordinary quagmire in which two brothers—Artem, or Tema, (Gosha Kutsenko) and Valentin, or Valia (Viktor Shamirov)—find themselves in Moscow on New Year’s Eve. The director himself refers to this film as a lyrical sketch without powerful plot or action. The film indeed revolves around an extremely simplified storyline.

so mnoiu vot chtoThe film opens with an X-ray image of their father’s brain. The two brothers are being told that their father will die in a few months and there is no way to deal with the malignant tumor. Faced with this insoluble situation, the older brother, Valia, attempts to return back to his provincial hometown to celebrate the New Year with his family and parents, while the younger, Tema, is busy preparing for a corporate celebration of the New Year in the capital, which is vital to his professional development. Both fail in their plans and get stuck in a Moscow traffic jam. More than half of the film takes place in the car. The situation of a traffic jam here both serves as a motivation for the conversation between the two brothers and epitomizes the emotional state of the characters. Throughout the film they are rushing to break through and reach something—but in vain; they are stuck in traffic and in their lives. This irritating and insoluble traffic situation, however, gives them a chance to reassess their life paths and face the grim reality of their futile endeavors. Valia’s inability to return back home on time reveals the foreboding failure of his marriage; but more importantly, these circumstances allow Tema to realize the pointlessness of his insipid relationship with his girlfriend (Olesia Zhelezniak) and the vanity of his subservient careerism. To please his boss at the corporate New Year party he and his colleagues prepare songs from the boss’s favorite film Irony of Fate (Ironia sud'by, ili s liogkim parom, dir. Riazanov, 1976). While in the car Tema rehearses the song “This is What Happens to Me,” but he eventually ends up not going to the party. The strength of the film is that the changes the characters undergo in this traffic jam unfold without straightforward moralizing. The development of the characters is revealed through the subtle and humorous dialogues and nuanced acting, which are captured predominantly through talking heads shots.

so mnoiu vot chtoThe camerawork of the film in general is static and mainly comprised of straight-on medium close-ups. This immobile and claustrophobic cinematography effectively conveys the emotional and physical condition of the traffic jam. In contrast, the lighting and color composition in the film is more diverse and dynamic. This is particularly noticeable in the apartment scene at the beginning of the film. The mixture of tungsten yellow and neon blue lights fills in the apartment space and creates a dynamic between a cozy closeness and cold alienation in the relationship between the two brothers. In the scene, repeated several times, where Valia enters Tema’s bedroom, the contrast between tungsten and neon lights is particularly striking. Here Tema’s body lying on the bed resembles a corpse in the morgue and the blue light reinforces this atmosphere. The relationship between Valia and Tema becomes closer through the mediation of a teenaged neighbor Alena (Aleksandra Petrova), who is neglected by her parents and left on the apartment staircase on the New Year’s Eve. The two brothers’ willy-nilly attempt to help out the abandoned teenager ends up with the trio’s unsuccessful trip along the congested Moscow roads.

so mnoiu vot chtoTheir doomed trip in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the congested metropolis is infused with a lyrical mode created by the music that runs throughout the film. It is mainly different variations of the song that Tema was supposed to sing at the corporate party. This song, borrowed from the immensely popular New Year film of Soviet times, Irony of Fate, gives not simply the title to the film but also serves simultaneously as a reference point to the past and as a point of departure in the present. The parallel between the two films is both explicit (direct citation of the songs) and implicit (the structure of the film triggered by the delayed flights). The ending of the two films, however, is almost the opposite. If Irony of Fate ends with the hope, This is What Happens to Me ends with the situation where nothing promises the hope. Even the cell phone dies when they attempt to talk to their dying father. As the director comments on the ending of the film “Our heroes do not acquire courage at the end—we just brought them to the point where they have nothing to lose and the New Year rang in; they just stare at the fireworks” (Mukhina 2013). In this sense the film is more about the anticipation of, or at least the hope for the courage of the heroes, whether in their family situation, in professional life, or in contemporary society as a whole.

so mnoiu vot chto The film does not make an explicit social commentary, but mentioning in passing of the Russian White House, or Alena’s humorous line that her mom voted for LDPR, and also the ghostly figure of an autocratic boss who makes all employers sing his favorite songs, does obliquely allude to the current social climate. In one of his interviews Shamirov admits that this would have been a completely different story and different ending had the film been shot five years earlier. The first scenario for the film was complete in 2007, but the film was not shot due to the economical crisis. In comparing the earlier and current versions of the scenario the director points to the change that happened over the five years: “The ending was different—the heroes had a midsummer stroll along the Moscow streets and thought up for each letter of the alphabet a word that would mean something good. It was a completely different mode… The heroes were younger, there were problems but there also was a hope. Five year passed, and now it’s a new story about two brothers, with different emotions, different life experience, which happened to us over this time” (Shamirov 2012).

Olga Kim
University of Pittsburgh

Comment on this article on Facebook

Works Cited

Mukhina Maria (2013), “‘So mnoiu vot shto proiskhodit’ Viktora Shamirova,” Biulleten' Kinoprokatchika, 23 December.

Shamirov. Viktor (2012). “So mnoiu vot shto proiskhodit,” Pervyi kanal, 9 June.

 


This is What Happens to Me, Russia, 2012
Color, 72 minutes
Director: Viktor Shamirov
Script: Viktor Shamirov, Gosha Kutsenko
Cinematographer: Semen Iakovlev
Production Design: Anna Gavrilova, Anna Kudevich
Music: Mikael Tariverdiev
Producer: Eduard Eloian, Andrei Novikov
Cast: Gosha Kutsenko, Viktor Shamirov, Aleksandra Petrova, Olesia Zhelezniak
Production: Stsena

Viktor Shamirov: This is What Happens to Me (So mnoiu vot shto proiskhodit, 2012)

reviewed by Olga Kim© 2014

Updated: 04 Jul 14