Issue 53 (2016)

Egor Baranov: Locust (Sarancha, 2014)

reviewed by Frederick H. White© 2016

saranchaIn 2012, Egor Baranov made his directorial debut with two comedies: Nightingale-Robber (Solovei-Razboinik) and Suicides (Samoubiitsy). Billed as an erotic thriller, Locust is a four episode TV series written by Oleg Malovichko, which appeared as a feature film at the Moscow Film Festival in June 2014. As some Russian critics have already noted, Locust is not an erotic thriller, no Basic Instinct (1992), but a commentary on the “Locust Generation,” which is willing to consume everything that life has to offer (Ivanov 2015). The film received a general release in Russian theatres on 5 November 2015 and has appeared at several international film festivals: at Eugene (US) where it won the award for best foreign film; at Portsmouth (UK) where it won for best feature film and for cinematography; and Scottsdale (US).

saranchaLocust tells the story of a tragic “romance” between a mismatched pair:  a young man from the provinces with aspirations beyond his pedigree and the daughter of an affluent Moscow businessman. Artem (Petr Fedorov) arrives at the summer cottage of the businessman smelling of fish and intending only to do a few odd jobs until he sees Lera (Polina Andreeva) sunning by the pool. Emboldened, Artem seduces her and spends the rest of the summer working on the cottage by day and romancing Lera at night. Summer comes to an end, however, and Lera must return to Moscow. The “fling” seems to be over until Artem arrives, ready to make it big in the capital city and to rekindle their summer romance. By this time, Lera has started seeing her father’s business partner, Gurevich (Dmitrii Shevchenko), a successful media mogul. In contrast to Gurevich, Artem is a passionate poet and his confidence and ambition are self-evident. Within a short amount of time, Artem has not only won back Lera, but has become successful in the advertising business. The idyllic situation of professional and personal success is soon shattered by the arrest of Lera’s father, causing Lera to return to Gurevich, seeking his help and protection. This causes Artem much anguish, but eventually he too finds a relationship of convenience with the wealthy Natal’ia (Ekaterina Volkova). Soon after, Artem and Lera are socializing in the same wealthy Moscow circles; still in love and unable to change the course of their lives, until Artem finally kills his wife. Inexplicably, Gurevich invites Artem to spend the summer at the cottage where the two lovers originally met. It does not take long before Artem and Lera are again passionately intertwined, forcing Artem to once again commit murder. Finally, it seems that the two will live happily ever after, except for one final twist…  As Anton Chekhov suggested, once a gun has been introduced into the narrative, it must be discharged at some point before the end of the play (or movie).

saranchaLocust is a visually attractive film with both an ability to capture the grand and the intimate convincingly. Iurii Korobeinikov, the cinematographer, deserves special recognition for his visual framing of the story. Where Locust fails is in its editing of the narrative from a TV series to a feature film. There are several narrative gaps in the film (for example, how does Gurevich finally find out about Artem and Lera?). Many times the narrative rushes through parts of the story (mainly when Artem must confront several disappointments). Given these two problems, Locust persists in depicting Artem and Lera’s lovemaking (almost always standing up) that elongates the narrative arc without strengthening the plot (yes, we know they are extremely passionate lovers and cannot live without each other). The financial necessity to make a feature film and a TV series simultaneously almost always seems to favor the series and to create narrative problems for the film. Another example of this is Andrei Kravchuk’s Admiral (2008), which was also released as a 10 episode TV series. The series was entertaining while the movie was quite uneven. It should also be mentioned that there is a soundtrack to Locust that was released as an album, written and produced by Oleg Chubykin. Much like the film itself, the songs are overwrought and sentimental, emphasizing the negative aspects of the film. The lasting impression is that as a summer TV series with a soundtrack so bad it is kind of good, Locust probably works. As a feature film, it is much less successful.

saranchaThe lasting impact of this film and TV series may be in its desire to depict the “Locust Generation,” those who have grown-up mainly in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. At a crucial moment in the film, as Artem is in the process of killing his wife, she says: “I look at you. It is so frightening. You are like a locust—they devour everything and do absolutely nothing. They are able to mutate. [long pause] I know that you are betraying me.” Given Karen Dawisha’s recent book (2014) on Putin’s own (and his circle’s) self-enrichment to the detriment of others, it is not surprising to see this worldview depicted in contemporary Russian culture. The desire to get ahead in society at any cost is ultimately damaging for everyone else. Whether the moniker is retained, there will most definitely be more cinematic depictions of this “law and order” generation that may return to Locust as a bench-mark film—as social and cultural discourse. If not, there are few redeeming qualities other than the visual aspects of this film.

Frederick H. White
Utah Valley University

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Works Cited

Dawisha, Karen (2014). Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? New York: Simon & Schuster

Ivanov, Boris (2015). “Sarancha: Prestuplenie i pokazaniia.” (27 October).

Locust, Russia, 2014
Color, 124 minutes
Director: Egor Baranov
Screenplay: Oleg Malovichko
Cinematography: Iurii Korobeinikov
Cast: Petr Fedorov, Polina Andreeva, Dmitrii Shevchenko, Ekaterina Volkova, Evgeniia Dmitrieva, Maksim Pinsker, Aleksei Gorbunov, Evgenii Stychkin, Aleksandr Golubkov, Ivan Shchenin
Executive producers: Liliia Gainanova, Ivan Samokhvalov
Associate producer: Egor Baranov
Producers: Ruslan Sorokin, Aleksandr Tsekalo

Egor Baranov: Locust (Sarancha, 2014)

reviewed by Frederick H. White© 2016