Issue 46 (2014)

Oksana Bychkova: Another Year (Esche odin god, 2014)

reviewed by Emily Schuckman Matthews © 2014

another yearOksana Bychkova’s Another Year depicts the unraveling of a marriage between two young Muscovites (Egor and Zhenia) over the course of one year. These events are chronicled in an episodic manner with dates appearing at the beginning of each new phase in their lives; each date indicates the passage of several months. The film’s one-year time span begins and ends with the advent of the New Year festivities. Another Year is an adaptation of Aleksandr Volodin’s play Don’t Leave Your Lovers (S liubimymi ne rasstavaites’) and a loose remake of the 1979 film by the same name (Dir. Pavel Arsenov), for which Volodin wrote the screenplay.

Another Year has been warmly received in Russia with audiences and critics offering praise. Aleksei Filiminov (Egor) took home the award for best lead actor at the Kinotavr festival. At the Rotterdam International Film Festival, where the film premiered, Bychkova won the Big Screen Award, intended to aid in the distribution of films to Dutch cinemas. Jay Weissberg of Variety highlights the standout performance by lead actress Nadia Lumpova (Zhenia), whom he describes as “fresh-faced and intelligently enthusiastic.” Russian critics are largely pleased with the significant reworking of the original film by screenwriters Natal’ia Meshchaninova and Liubov’ Mul’menko. Antonina Kriukova of Tribuna noted that Bychkova abandoned the “romantic tone” of Arsenov’s film in favor of a “harsher, more sober take on reality as [the couple] moves closer and closer to divorce.”

another yearAnother Year offers a meditative portrayal of Egor and Zhenia’s marriage, a couple in their early twenties living in a small rented apartment in Moscow. He works as an illegal taxi driver, despite his university education, while she has just landed a job as a graphic designer at a hip company. Egor is a reticent, introverted traditionalist, unhappy with change. Zhenia has a bright and dynamic personality, enjoys expanding her circle of friends to include her new colleagues and is interested in emerging trends and ideas. The film begins with happy and mundane scenes from their domestic life: a playful cuddle in bed before Zhenia leaves for work, cleaning a rug and playing in the snow. These scenes slowly give way to ones which illustrate their growing distance from one another, capturing subtle annoyance and dissent that eventually escalates to dramatic fights. The two finally divorce and go their separate ways. But, after Zhenia requires an emergency appendectomy, the film ends with the couple reunited in the hospital—she confessing her love for him in her anesthetic delirium, he looking on fondly.

another yearBychkova does an excellent job of capturing the widening gulf between Egor and Zhenia as represented by the distinct spheres of the city they inhabit. The opening scene is an extended, forty-second shot of the notoriously bad traffic in Moscow’s city center. This image sticks with the viewer as a metaphor for Egor’s stalled life: he spends his days and weeks sitting in this traffic as a gypsy cab driver, contented with going nowhere. He later attempts to find a traditional job after being knocked unconscious by a client. Those scenes highlight Egor’s sullen personality as he responds minimally to interviewers’ questions and is visibly uncomfortable and out of place in the fast-paced business environment of the vibrant and competitive city. In contrast, Zhenia is invigorated by working in such a milieu. Her open-concept office is contemporary, sleek and undeniably “cool.” Filled with the latest hardware and software, the young, urban workforce collaborates on projects, socializing as they instant message one another and discuss—and tweet about—the latest items trending on social media.

Not only does Egor lack the motivation to change his professional life, he despises change of any kind: he protests throwing away arcane electronics, continues to wear an old coat despite its long-broken zipper and refuses to spend New Year’s Eve with anyone other than the same crowd he celebrates with every year. While these qualities seem endearing to Zhenia early in the film, they become more and more infuriating as she expands her horizons through her exposure to her hipster colleagues. Egor is increasingly jealous as he sees Zhenia joking with and befriending the male photo editor at work and suspects her of having an affair. (She is not.) After several fights fueled by jealousy and Zhenia’s frustration with Egor, he sleeps with a mutual friend, the sweet and provincial Ol’ga, who feeds him pel’meni and massages his ego. A divorce soon follows.

another yearOne interesting but frustrating quality of the film is that Egor and Zhenia seem to be truly in love, making their eventual divorce unconvincing—and ultimately making the happy ending seem inevitable. Bychkova spends much time early in the film capturing the purity of their love. (The chemistry between Lumpova and Filiminov is palpable.) She includes two extended scenes (3:30 and 1:30) of the couple’s lovemaking, filmed in close up and in long shot, providing a voyeuristic study of their marital intimacy. Other scenes capture their day to day interactions: eating sushi in bed, cuddling in front of their laptop to watch a movie, shopping at the mall for a new coat, buying groceries. These images capture well not only the routines of married life, but also offer the viewer glimpses into the spaces middle-class twenty-somethings inhabit in the city.

The unraveling of their marriage is portrayed with less care and seems to come quickly, motivated by unfounded jealousy and Zhenia’s frustration with Egor’s “decomposition.” While Bychkova is attempting to illustrate how the subtle accumulation of slights, jealous impulses and the personal growth of one partner can degrade a marriage, there is something clichéd and implausible about Zhenia and Egor’s decision to divorce. During the very scene in which they finalize their divorce, they are at their most intimate, laughing and sharing inside jokes about their union. It is hard to believe that a couple that seems so happy could be destroyed so easily—or that Egor, unmotivated to do much of anything—would so readily sleep with another woman. On the other hand, this might be the exact point Bychkova is making about the fickleness of young love.

another yearAs the two go their separate ways, pursuing the lives they thought they wanted, neither is happy. Egor ultimately seems bored with the traditional Ol’ga, most notably when they journey to the countryside to celebrate the New Year with her family. In an idyllic scene of provincial Russian family life around a bountiful table, Egor appears eager to leave. Meanwhile, Zhenia seems equally bored as her new intellectual hipster roommates discuss contemporary cult films and cinematic trends and as she and a date tour an edgy art museum. Dissatisfaction with their new lives seems to drive the two back together—first for a quick tryst in Zhenia’s apartment and then to their final reunion in the hospital.

Another Year projects a type of sentimental nihilism, offering a perspective on marriage that rejects Egor’s traditionalism and heralds Zhenia’s personal growth, but ultimately chooses a clichéd and old-fashioned ending to their story. While some viewers will be pleased with the couple’s reunion and the film more generally for its happy ending and pleasant characters, Bychkova’s narrative does little to help us understand the complications of love and marriage.

Emily Schuckman Matthews
San Diego State University

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Works Cited

Weissberg, Jay. 2014. “Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Another Year’.” Variety, 1 February.

Kriukova, Antonina. 2014. “Legko li byt’ molodym.” Tribuna, 4 July,

 


Another Year, Russia 2014,
107 minutes, colour, Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Oksana Bychkova
Screenplay: Natal’ia Meshchaninova, Liubov’ Mul’menko
DoP: Kirill Bobrov
Production Design: Ol’ga Khlebnikova
Costume Design: Ol’ga Ludwig
Sound: Vladimir Golovnitskii
Editing: Ivan Lebedev
Cast: Nadezhda Lumpova, Aleksei Filimonov
Producers: Nikolai Borodachev, Arnol’d Tatarintsev, Mikhail Rozentsveig, Vasilii Shil’nikov
Production: Multilend, Gosfil’mofond RF

Oksana Bychkova: Another Year (Esche odin god, 2014)

reviewed by Emily Schuckman Matthews © 2014

Updated: 04 Oct 14