Issue 49 (2015)
Zhora Kryzhovnikov Kiss Them All! 2 (Gor’ko! 2, 2014)
reviewed by Eva Binder© 2015
The sequel Kiss Them All! 2 by the young filmmaker Zhora Kryzhovnikov (born 1979) premiered exactly one year after the widely-acclaimed folksy comedy Kiss Them All!, which ranges—due to low production costs and quite good box-office-results—among the most profitable films in post-Soviet Russia. Although the sequel was able to gather a total of 2.37 million viewers in Russia and therefore more than covered its costs, it nevertheless forfeited around 35 per cent of the audience the original film attracted. The noticeable loss of public attention can hardly be explained in terms of plot, characters, comical effects or even ideological implications. It seems to be rather the rare concurrence of form and content of the original film—the simulated wedding video device and the wedding plot—that explain the euphoric reactions of Russian viewers as well as the highly-appreciated documentary effect of being confronted with life “as it is” in a film comedy. It is most likely this sense of shared experience and being a part of the depicted wedding ritual that could not be repeated in the sequel a year later.
In contrast to Kiss Them All!, which is focused on the typical, folksy Russian wedding celebration complete with family gatherings, eating, dancing, singing and heavy drinking, the sequel is centered around the ritual of the funeral, which, just like the wedding, appears to be a frame for displaying national stereotypes, for demonstrating social unity, and for generating comical effects. Except for the ritual itself, the characters, cast, and setting of the sequel are nearly identical. The comedy’s protagonists are grouped around the bridal couple Natasha (Iuliia Aleksandrova) and Roma (Egor Koreshkov) of the original wedding plot. While Natasha’s stepfather Boris Ivanovich (Ian Tsapnik) and his spruced-up wife (Elena Valiushkina) represent the administrative elite of today’s provincial Russia, Roma’s relatives belong to a lower social strata and make up the perfect provincial Russian “drinking-class family” (Dolgopolov 2014). Among the shrillest and most hilarious representatives there are Roma’s clichéd Russian mother (Iuliia Stadik), with her overpowering corpulence and compelling heartiness; Roma’s half-criminal, hot-tempered brother Lesha (Aleksandr Pal’), with a tattoo of Viktor Vasnetsov’s “Bogatyrs” on his chest; and Roma’s permanently-drunk uncle Tolia (Sergei Lavygin) from the coastal town of Tuapse. The comedy’s setting adds a flair of easiness and cheeriness to the overall light-hearted atmosphere. The film was shot at the coastal town of Gelendzhik in the Krasnodar region with its holiday resorts at the Black Sea and the Caucasian foreland in the backdrop.
The plot’s starting point is a situation of dissent: both Natasha’s and Roma’s family members are gathered at the breakfast table, when Natasha’s stepfather Boris Ivanovich starts a verbal slander against all the others. He has obviously contracted debts and is therefore staying at Roma’s family’s poorly-equipped cottage, which is located directly at the seaside. After hinting at the inability of each family member to earn a better living, Boris Ivanovich and his wife drive off. On their way they run into gunfire, and the next scene shows the family gathered around a coffin with Boris Ivanovich lying in state. But soon it turns out that Boris Ivanovich is just pretending to be dead in order to escape his debtors. The fraud works out well, until Boris’ former friend and comrade-in-arms Viktor Karavai (Aleksandr Robak) turns up and wants to join in the mourning.
Taking the family members as “those-in-the-know” and the unaware intruder as a point of departure, the plot unfolds within the frame of situational comedy. Karavai, who turns out to be a successful businessman, insists on organizing a funeral right in the mountains that befits the assumed deceased’s army rank as paratrooper. Furthermore, before the funeral ceremony, he takes the opportunity to accommodate the family members, including the coffin, in his luxurious house after they have been driven off their place due to Boris Ivanovich’s doubtful business activities. At Karavai’s house, which in terms of ideological grounding can be regarded as a direct equivalent to the fashionable Western-style wedding party in Kiss Them All!, the tight family and love relations are nearly shattered, when Karavai discloses that he is Natasha’s real father and tries to gain back her mother’s love. Notwithstanding the fact that he left mother and child, he now appears as a heartfelt and caring man—in contrast to Boris Ivanovich who actually appears to have deceived Karavai and all the others with his monkey business.
Only in the last third of the film is the funeral ritual finally played out. The ceremony takes place amidst an impressive mountain panorama, on a grassy ridge with a military monument dedicated to paratroopers on the one side and a stylish white tent for the funeral gathering on the other. While Boris Ivanovich regularly pleads on his mobile phone to be dug out from the grave, the gathering develops in an expected, highly stereotypical way, exposing a well-thought-out set of masculine behavior patterns with extensive speeches and toasts (Karavai being the host), tears and joy, Cossack singing and dancing, military paraphernalia and vodka. By doing this the film is actually honest and truthful, since there is nothing in the whole funeral ritual that would claim to be traditional, genuine, or pure. The famous song “Not for me” (“Ne dlia menia”), which is interpreted by a Cossack choir of mustachioed men in white-and-red coats and the typical Cossack papakhas, may serve as an illustrative example. The Russian romance goes back to the Caucasian War of the 1830s and was penned by the aristocratic Russian composer Nikolai Devitte, who set the poem of the Czarist army officer Molchanov to music. When the romance was rediscovered in the 1980s, it gradually entered the repertoire of Cossack choirs and is nowadays commonly mistaken as an authentic Cossack folk song. The scene of the funeral gathering, which deliberately exceeds the bonds of good taste, therefore appears to be interesting on a meta-level, since it demonstrates quite bluntly to what extent today’s pop and TV culture have absorbed social behavior and supposedly sacred Russian rituals.
As far as ideological implications are concerned, the sequel does not add much to the “mission” of Kiss them all! Both films perfectly fit the political and cultural orientation of the current Putin system with its preference for conservative values, family bonds and patriotism. The ideological position taken up by the director Kryzhovnikov, corresponds to the strategies pursued by the successful film director and producer Timur Bekmambetov, who has turned toward the genre of folk comedy himself and co-produced Kryzhovnikov’s films. The ideological grounding of Kryzhovnikov’s sequel becomes perfectly clear in the final showdown, which is realized as a duel between Boris Ivanovich (who finally gets dug out) and Viktor Karavai. Karavai forces his former friend and business partner to apologize for what he has done and is consequently forgiven for his fraud. The only person to whom Boris Ivanovich does not apologize is Karavai himself, because his deeds are not to be forgiven: 20 years ago he abandoned a mother and her little child and turned his back on his motherland.
The sequel’s flaw in comparison to the original film is to be found in its form, which lacks the original’s documentary effect. Kiss them all! 2 starts and ends with Roma’s younger brother filming scenes of family life. While the amateur video camera appears as a crucial link between the form and content in Kiss them all!, it is reduced to a narrative frame in the sequel. What lies in between is pure comedy genre. However, the film’s producers and crew found a way of compensating for the lack of “effect of presence” that garnered acclaim for the original film (see Khokhlov 2013). In August 2014 people in 6 Russian cities were invited to join a big street party with food for free (see Gorbashova 2014). With the so-called “Vserossiiskoe zastol’e” the production company Bazelevs aimed at being included in the Russian Book of Records, and, of course, at promoting the new film as a mass event.
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Dolgopolov, Greg (2014), “Zhora Kryzhovnikov Kiss Them All! (Gor’ko!, 2013)”, KinoKultura 45.
Gorbashova, Anna (2014), “Samoe massovoe vserossiiskoe zastol’e popalo v Knigu rekordov Rossii”, RIA Novosti, 23 August.
Khokhlov, Boris (2013), “Pei, deris’, liubi”, film.ru, 15 October.
Kiss Them All! 2, Russia, 2014
Color, 96 minutes
Director: Zhora Kryzhovnikov
Screenwriters: Aleksei Kozakov, Zhora Kryzhovnikov
Cinematography: Dmitrii Gribanov
Cast: Ian Tsapnik, Iuliia Alexandrova, Egor Koreshkov, Elena Valiushkina, Vasilii Kortukov, Iuliia Stadnik, Sergei Lavygin, Aleksandr Robak, Aleksandr Pal’, Sergei Svetlakov
Producers: Il’ia Burets, Dmitrii Nelidov, Sergei Svetlakov, Timur Bekmambetov
Zhora Kryzhovnikov Kiss Them All! 2 (Gor’ko! 2, 2014)
reviewed by Eva Binder© 2015