Issue 55 (2017)
Aleksei Krasovskii: The Collector (Kollektor, 2016)
reviewed by Arlene Forman© 2017
When Payment Comes Due
For his debut film The Collector, director and screenwriter Aleksei Krasovskii has created an intriguing tale in which Arthur, a debt collector par excellence, has the tables turned on him, leaving him with but a few hours to try and save himself. Konstantin Khabenskii’s bravura performance, captured by Denis Firstov’s dynamic lens, quickly draws viewers into this well-crafted psychological thriller.
For seventy-three minutes, the camera focuses squarely on Arthur and his telephones, as he converses with a series of disembodied voices: first those of his clients and his secretary, later those of his boss, his love interest, a reporter from the radio station Echo Moskvy, to name but a few. During the film shoot, the actress Kseniia Buravskaia (Moscow Chill [Moroz po kozhe, 2007] and Unforgiven [Neproshchennye,2009]) delivered all the lines, later other actors would lend their own verbal interpretations to these roles: Valentina Lukashchuk (Everybody Dies but Me [Vse umrut a ia ostanus’, 2008]; School, [Shkola, 2010]) gives voice to Arthur’s secretary Liza, while Polina Agureeva (The Long Goodbye [Dolgoe proshchanie, 2004] and Euphoria, 2006) plays the receptionist Tamara. Other familiar voices include those of veteran actor Aleksandr Tiutin (Admiral, 2008) as Arthur’s boss, Kirill Pletnev (Novel with Cocaine [Roman s kokainom, 2014]) as the security guard, and Evgenii Stychkin (Ward No. 6 [Palata No. 6, 2009]) a former buddy. Buravskaia would retain perhaps the juiciest of those parts, that of the vengeful widow, Natalia.
Those who associate Khabenskii with such blockbuster roles as the hapless Anton Gorodetskii of Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor, 2004) and Day Watch (Dnevnoi dozor, 2005), or the dashing Kolchak of Admiral, may be surprised to see the actor embody such a merciless, persistent tormentor. Even those who have seen his more recent dramatic turn as Sluzhkin in Aleksandr Veledinskii’s The Geographer Drank his Globe Away (Geograf globus propil, 2013) have yet to see him take on such an unappealing role. Perhaps those few who saw his one-man performance of Patrick Süskind’s Contrabass at the Moscow Art Theater have observed Khabenskii’s desire to take on more challenging, more morally ambiguous roles of late (Arkhangelskii 2016). In Collector he portrays a nocturnal predator, who induces his clients to repay their loans by subjecting them to unremitting psychological torment. Arthur works from on high, in an office suite in a Moscow City skyscraper with grand panoramic views. As Arthur manipulates one person after another, he is framed by a nighttime landscape. The prominently illuminated Radisson Royal Hotel (formerly the Hotel Ukraina) and the top floors of the White House seem to reflect Arthur’s desire for profit, position and prestige. The extreme tactics he uses to achieve his goals come straight from the heartlessbusiness model promulgated in Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always Be Closing.” Arthur’s appetite and aptitude for debt collection serve as a considerable source of pride and provide him with the physically comfortable lifestyle he enjoys.
That all ends in one swift stroke. The widow of a former “client” strikes back, posting a highly incriminating video of Arthur online. Arthur has just a few hours to prove his innocence, engendering an ever more stressful barrage of phone calls. As Arthur tries to get to the bottom of the matter, he must confront the nature of what he has done to others and what that has done to him.
As all grows darker for Arthur, so does the light surrounding him. This does not deter the camera from creating tremendous dynamism in what might otherwise be a rather static situation. Denis Firstov shoots Khabenskii from so many creative angles that the tension in the film continues to build. Arthur does occasionally move outside his office, affording new lighting and filming opportunities, most strikingly on the roof of the building. Dmitrii Selipanov’s score also contributes to the suspense, especially the percussive elements therein. As the film progresses, however, the film’s musi-visual language grows more predictable, particularly when highlighting moments of danger (see Kiang 2016).
Collector premiered in June 2016 at the Kinotavr Film Festival and won Khabenskii the Best Actor award and Firstov the prize for Best Cinematography. In July the film earned a Special Jury Prize at Karlovy Vary. Much of the film’s success stems from the forceful, convincing dialogue, a skill Krasovskii has developed by writing for both the big and small screen. Of particular relevance are his scripts for two television series, Discoveries (Otkroveniia, 2011) and Freud’s Method (Metod Freida, 2012). The two leads (private investigator Listok and psychologist Roman Freudin, respectively) owe their success to their ability to read people and to their interlocutory skills, traits that Arthur definitely inherits from them, though he uses them for ends more nefarious.
The vitality of Khabenskii’s performance may be due, in part, to the fact that the film was shot in chronological order and very quickly, in seven shifts that lasted from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In a desire for authenticity, Krasovskii enlisted the services of Pavel Mikhmel’, the General Director of the First Collection Bureau, who not only served as consultant, but provided the low-budget film with actual or replica forms that his agency employs (some 200 kilograms of paper).
Critics have compared Collector to a variety of films. Nikita Mikhalkov’s chamber drama Without Witnesses (Bez svidetelei, 1983) underscores how long it has been since a Russian director created such a deftly plotted, intimate duet (Arkhangelskii 2016). In an interview subtitled “Theoretically Any Story Can Be Told through One Character” (Anon. 2015), Krasovskii himself references Steven Knight’s Locke (2013), Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried (2010), as well as J.C. Chandler’s All is Lost (2013). These solo performances (termed monofilms in Russian) tend to fall into two basic categories: the first provides the character with a convincing backstory, while the second does not. By and large, Collector fits into the latter category, despite efforts to humanize Arthur through a subplot. Our debt collector, it turns out, found an injured dog on the road and took it to a veterinary clinic. The calls from the clinic that pepper the picture have elicited different responses. Some viewers believe this shows Arthur’s more sensitive side, while others quip that he can hardly love a dog, let alone a human being. That issue, like the film’s denouement, must be left for each viewer to decide.
What remains indisputable is the quality of Krasovskii’s debut film, which highlights the illusions held and moral compromises made not only by Arthur but by the company he keeps. Only two voices break through the cacophony to display human compassion or decency and both belong to young women of another generation and lifestyle, outside Moscow’s golden ring of privilege.
In terms of gripping plot, craftsmanship and pure aplomb Collector can join the ranks of such films as Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015), Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2013), Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002)and Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away (2000) (see Ukhov 2016). With a limited budget and shooting schedule Krasovskii has accomplished something quite rare in contemporary Russian cinema: a highly watchable mystery that with the proper distribution could easily attract an international audience outside the festival circuit. Look for it.
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Anon. 2015. “Rezhisser fil’ma ‘Kollektor’ Aleksei Krasovskii: ‘Teoreticheski liubuiu istoriiu mozhno rasskazat’ s pomoshch’iu odnogo geroia’,” Cinemotion 14 October.
Arkhangel’skii, Andrei. 2016. “Retsenziia na fil’m Kollektor” dp.ru 30 September.
Kiang, Jessica. 2016. “Film Review: ‘Collektor’,” Variety, 7 July.
Ukhov, Evgenii. 2016. “Protiv techeniia ‘Kollektor’,” Film.ru, 11 October.
Collector, Russia, 2016
Color, 73 minutes
Director and Scriptwriter: Aleksei Krasovskii
DoP: Denis Firstov
Editor: Artem Baryshnikov
Music: Dmitrii Selipanov
Cast: Konstantin Khabenskii, Kseniia Buravskaia, Polina Agureeva, Daria Moroz, Evgenii Stychkin, Valentina Lukashchuk, Tatiana Lazareva, Kirill Pletnev, Aleksandr Tiutin, Igor Zolotovitskii, Nikita Tiunin, Marina Lisovets
Producers: Dmitrii Ruzhentsev, Georgii Shabanov, Eduard Iloian
Production: Paprika Production
Aleksei Krasovskii: The Collector (Kollektor, 2016)
reviewed by Arlene Forman© 2017