Issue 52 (2016)

Arkadii Iakhnis: The Doorman (Shveitsar, 2014)

reviewed by Theodora Kelly Trimble© 2016

shveitsarArkadii Iakhnis’s fifth production as director, The Doorman, premiered in August 2014 at the “Window to Europe” Film Festival in Vyborg. In addition to directing, Iakhnis also co-wrote the film’s script: a restaurant doorman also works an undercover job moonlighting as a watchman for a criminal group that kidnaps the children of wealthy parents. One of the victims, and the film’s second protagonist, is a young hostage in her mid-twenties who is told that her father will swiftly pay her ransom. The film traces the development of the relationship between captor and hostage in a Moscow apartment while keenly relying on the alliance between camera work and set to illustrate their bond.

As the film unfolds, the viewer gradually learns about the protagonists’ respective histories. The hostage, whose mother is dead, fears that her father will not pay for her release so that he can collect her share of his deceased wife’s assets. The girl, we also learn, has a contentious history in relationships, setting the backdrop for her character development and interdependence with the doorman. The power struggle that unfolds becomes more tense—and sexually charged—as the film discloses the doorman’s frustrations at being the “little man” his entire life. The most interesting aspect of their connection, moreover, is the portrayal of both hostage and captor as powerless in their own ways: the girl has little to no control over her imprisonment nor over her family affairs. The doorman, as the end of the film discloses, has not reached the professional or social position in life that he feels he deserves.

shveitsarWhile Stockholm Syndrome is certainly a major narrative that runs through Iakhnis’s work, the film pushes beyond this characterization through its exploration of mutual curiosities and identification between the watchman and his prisoner. The doorman begins to relate to the young woman just as much as she is drawn to him. The issue of trust is explored, for example, in one scene when she runs an errand at his request and promptly returns to the apartment.

The attention to visual detail—both in acting expression and otherwise is another strength of the film that may be attributed, in part, to the work of the cinematographer Mariia Diagileva, for whom The Doorman is her debut feature film. We see the young hostage break down twice, for example, moments that spotlight the incredible skills of the actress, played by Mariia Berdinskikh. The concentration on close-ups provides a window into her talent to perform with physiognomy, an accomplishment for a young performer without a lengthy filmography. What the camerawork achieves with close-ups is also reflected in the film’s diegetic sound, as it is peppered with recordings that lend the film to a certain diary aesthetic, providing another personal window into the life of the doorman that becomes much clearer towards the end.

shveitsarSuch attention to visual particulars is fulfilled in other creative ways: the fixation on bindings, for example, is highlighted through straps that hold the hostage in her chair and shots of the doorman’s shirt buttons. The focus on details also carries over to conversations between the protagonists. The doorman, at one point, offers the young woman some food, after which a lengthy conversation about her habits of consumption ensues, contributing a snapshot of the perplexing way their relationship develops.

The plot, of course, would not be complete without the erotic anxiety that emerges as the characters get to know one another. This tension is compounded by the voyeuristic overlay of the camera within the camera, as the doorman’s actions in the film are constantly being monitored. Such an edge to the film’s mood heightens the viewer’s own sense that we are somehow invading the privacy of the apartment.

shveitsarThe film is clearly influenced by theatrical practices and aesthetics, as both of the protagonists were previously actors in the theater. One might argue, however, that the real star is Pavel Shappo’s set. Whereas the viewer becomes acquainted with only two characters, the apartment space is consistently presented as a series of artistic surprises, the most haunting of which is the hidden corners from which the doorman’s hostages are dragged in their chairs. The rest of the film, in many ways, recalls a theatrical stage, most notably through props and lighting. The doorman, for instance, is consistently presented lying on a primitively-dressed bed, which comes across as a prop transposed from the stage. Dim lighting, a sparse assortment of furniture, windows, and small spaces reveal the set as its own character that, while predictable, also has its own nooks, crannies, and surprises. The set, furthermore, cleverly reflects the construction of the hostage-captor relationship: each of these characters lives in his or her own dark, dimly lit mind and past, which plays out in parallel through Shappo’s work.

The opening credits reveal that Andrei Panin is the film’s creative producer but it is also dedicated to Panin, who was discovered deceased in his apartment in March 2013; his death, as it was reported, was likely the result of an accident due to head trauma rather than foul play. The actor, who won a prize for his work in Pavel Lungin’s The Wedding (Svad’ba, 2000), is ironically best known for his role in the popular detective television series, Kamenskaia. Although there is no evidence that Panin’s death was linked to any criminal activity, the choice to dedicate the production to him speaks interestingly to the film’s status as a psychological thriller, and more than anything, to the relationship between people and the spaces in which they live and perish.

Theodora Kelly Trimble
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

ProfiCinema (2014). “Fil'm ‘Shveitsar’ primet uchastie v kinofestivale ‘Okno v Evropu’,” ProfiCinema, 6 August.

Sychev, Sergei (no date), “V vyborge pokazali ‘Shveitsar’ Arkadiia Iakhnisa,” Film.Pro

The Doorman, Russia, 2014
Color, 90 minutes
Director: Arkadii Iakhnis
Script: Arkadii Iakhnis, Evgeniia Tirdatova
Cinematography: Mariia Diagileva
Composers: Iraida Iusupova, Dmitrii Kakhovskii
Sound: Andrei Budylin, Petr Malafeev
Production Design: Pavel Shappo
Cast: Andrei Sergeev, Mariia Berdinskikh
Producers: Ella Arkhangel'skaia, Aleksandra Piskunova
Film Company: Jupiter FM

Arkadii Iakhnis: The Doorman (Shveitsar, 2014)

reviewed by Theodora Kelly Trimble© 2016