Issue 54 (2016)

Pavel Ruminov: Love Machine (Mashina liubvi, 2016)

reviewed by Ksenia Konstantinova-Ragot© 2016

love machineThe latest film by Russian director Pavel Ruminov, Love Machine, was shown in June 2016 at the 38th International Moscow Film Festival. It opened the out-of-competition section entitled “Missing Pictures”.

Pavel Ruminov here films his relationship with the actress Natal’ia Anisimova. When he decides to break up with her, Natal’ia does not agree to end their affair. So Pavel reconstructs his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend on screen in the form of semi-documentary, close to an experimental video. This is how Pavel Ruminov describes his own work process:

Doing a half-mainstream movie like Status: Free (Status: svoboden) you need to be more careful, more attentive and rigid. You want to do some experiments and you almost physically perceive the need to create something unusual, without any idea where it could lead. It’s a pure passion, the thrill of gaming (Belov 2016).

There were only three days for shooting the story line. Then the footage was completed with work on the sound and editing, mixed with sudden extra shots over a whole year. This handmade process allows Ruminov to look deep inside himself and discover his alter ego, Gerald. Gerald becomes the hero of the story, who is also a director full of creative ideas about the filming of sex. Ruminov says that in order to achieve freedom and frankness of expression, he had to transform his camera into a keyboard or a text editor so he could treat cinema like a writer treats his text.

love machineSome scenes are very intimate, and this intimacy is not deranging, but comfortable for the spectator. The film can be considered pornography, because it contains close-ups of female and male sexual organs, and these scenes take up a lot of time. However, the intimacy is not only created by the sex scenes; it also pervades in the dialogues and in the looks that only a couple can exchange in private, where no film crew is needed. Pavel and Natal’ia admit that they filmed some scenes themselves. 

In Ruminov’s experience of directing we find movies of different genres: Dead Daughters (Mertvye docheri, 2007) is a horror film that made him famous; his new horror Dislike (2016) is preparing for the release; the dramas I’ll Be Around (Ia budu riadom, 2012) and romantic comedies as Status: Free (2015).

love machineRuminov does not consider Love Machine to be pornography. For him, it is an illustration of his idea of “new pornography”. He refers to the contemporary Swiss-born and British-based philosopher Alain De Botton, famous for his promotion of complex philosophic ideas concerning love, sex and happiness. Quoting him, Ruminov sets an example of the perceptive integrity of a human being presented by the icon of the Virgin Mary made by painters of the Renaissance period. The admiration of the human body in the Renaissance led to present the Virgin Mary with nude breasts and a halo, unifying the separation of the corporal and the divine. And the icon of Virgin Mary inspired Ruminov for his future film.

Starting from the mid 1970s, society stopped to pretend that love and the relationship between a man and a woman is possible without sex. Erotic elements, sex and pornography took their place in mainstream cinema during the era of the sexual revolution, and allowed the appearance of such masterpieces as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris (1972) or Nagasi Oshima’s Empire of Passion (1978). Today, erotic scenes are almost made obligatory by Russian producers to ensure commercial success. However, during the Soviet Union period the idea of sex was totally excluded from cinema, and only during perestroika the gate opened up to huge amounts of video pornography.

Since the end of the 1970s the pornographic industry does not really try to enter the world of cinematographic art, staying in the niche of video and serving very specific purposes. Such films usually deploy a very simple script and a limited number of angles for shooting that are edited in a primitive way. The pornography is often associated with perversity and shame. The last attempt to transgress the border between cinema and pornography was made in 2015 by Gaspard Noé with his film Love. By the time Love created an uproar at Cannes, Ruminov’s film was almost completed and Love didn’t influence it.

love machineThe idea of Ruminov’s “new pornography” is supposed to purify the perception of the naturalness of the human body from the morbid and aggressive views proposed by traditional pornography. However, is Love Machine pornography? According to one of the most important specialists on the question of pornography, Linda Williams, we can consider the film as “body genre,” or even as “an extended rubric of melodrama, considered as a filmic mode of stylistic and /or emotional excess that stands in contrast to more ‘dominant’ realistic, goal-oriented narrative” (Williams, 1991). Love Machine transgresses pornography: the story concentrates on Natal’ia Anisimova’s crumbling world that attracts the spectator more than erotic scenes.

Ruminov uses the technique of improvised dialogue: as Anisimova reminds us in a scene where during the shooting, Ruminov provoked her vivid reaction by pouring a bottle of whisky in her eyes. In response, she reminded him that he abandoned his family and child, erasing the border between real life and film. The spectator turns out to be involved in a real quarrel, and he is surprised by the sudden emergence of reality. He is also taking pleasure in pure voyeurism, as well as people do by involuntarily being bystanders of a family squabble.

love machineLong contemplative scenes transform Ruminov’s and Anisimova’s nude bodies into a part of the background, as if a landscape. Their faces are much more interesting to observe, as they reflect the real energy of love unifying a man and woman. For Ruminov, all people are “Love Machines,” capable of producing this magic power.

The film is a shining pearl of sensuality in contemporary Russian cinema, suffering from glossy mainstream images that pretend to be nice. Harassed by the idea of Russian neo-patriotism and the dullness of the educational concept of art, Russian cinema lacks emotional freedom. Ruminov achieves an extremely high level of sincerity, because he produced his personal film himself. This film, as well as others made in the same artisanal style (Two Hours, 2009, Deadline, 2004) can be compared to the work of a video graphomaniac. But even if Love Machine does not find a distributor, Ruminov says that he cannot stop filming, because it makes him “feel liKe an Iranian dissident” (Belov 2016).

Ksenia Konstantinova-Ragot
Université Paris VIII

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Works Cited

Belov, Evgenii. 2016. “S ‘Love Machine’ ia chuvstvuiu sebia iranskim rezhisserom.”, 6 August.

“Pavel Ruminov pro ‘Mashinu liubvi’.” (2016). YouTube 6 July.

Williams, Linda. (1991). “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Film Quarterly 44.4: 2–13.

Love Machine, Russia, 2016
Color, 80 minutes
Script: Pavel Ruminov
Camera: Kirill Voronyntsev, Anton Viurkov, Pavel Ruminov
Music: Tony High, Al Ivanov
Sound: Anton Karpov, Igor Karpov
Cast: Pavel Ruminov, Natal’ia Anisimova, Mariia Lavrova, Rafael Durnoian, Andrei Nazimov
Producer: Pavel Ruminov
Production: Mila Prosvirina, Sergei Kasparov, Natal’ia Anisimova
Production: Studio SLON

Pavel Ruminov: Love Machine (Mashina liubvi, 2016)

reviewed by Ksenia Konstantinova-Ragot© 2016

Updated: 08 Oct 16