Issue 55 (2017)

Eduard Bordukov: The Pitch (Korobka, 2016)

reviewed by Mariëlle Wijermars© 2017

pitchThe Pitch is the feature-length debut of director and screenwriter Eduard Bordukov. It combines a coming-of-age story about Kostia (Sergei Romanovich), who dreams of becoming a professional football player, with a social commentary on interethnic tensions and nationalist violence against migrants. While these social issues are a difficult topic to take up in a film aimed at a young audience, the film largely succeeds in avoiding over-moralizing its message. The film received financial support from the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Cinema Fund (Fond Kino).[1] By addressing interethnic relations, the film responded to one of the Ministry’s priority themes for 2013 (the year of application): “Russia as a multiethnic country.”

Bordukov sets the stage as follows: to Kostia and his three friends, the neighborhood street football pitch is like a second home but, despite his apparent talent and constant encouragements of his girlfriend Nastia (Stasia Miloslavskaia), Kostia hesitates to approach the coach of the football team. One day, as the friends set out to play, they find that their pitch is already taken by a group of young Caucasians led by professional football player Damir (Kirill Degtiar’). As neither group is prepared to share the pitch, they organize a three-match competition. The winning team gets to play the field. But as the entire neighborhood gets involved in the tournament, rooting for either side, the struggle over the pitch comes to symbolize Russian society and the tensions between “Russians” and “non-Russians” that divide it. When Mel, one of Kostia’s friends, gets a gang of ultranationalists involved, whose “support” for the team quickly turns violent, the story takes on a grim tone. But after several confrontations (the gang destroys the pitch and threatens to beat up Damir) and subsequent interethnic reconciliation (the community joins forces to rebuild the pitch, Damir is defended by his Russian teammates) the film ends on a positive note with Kostia fulfilling his dream.

pitchThe promotion campaign for the film, which premiered on 7 April 2016, included a series of YouTube clips featuring players of the national football team. Recalling how they also used to practice their skills playing street football, the testimonials by Alan Dzagoev, Pavel Mamaev and others emphasize the universality of the film’s story and the personal and social struggles it depicts. They also explicitly connect the film’s message to the recent FIFA campaign against racism in the sport. While its box office success was limited,[2] the film fared well in the international festival circuit, collecting prizes at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (Adult Jury Prize Live-action Feature Film for Youth, 2016), the SportFilmFestival (Golden Paladin Awards for Best Film and Best Director, 2016) and the ZLÍN International Film Festival for Children and Youth (Youth Jury Main Prize, 2016).

pitchAt the official Press Conference, the director revealed that the film was inspired by the 2010 Manezh Square riots, where groups of football supporters and local minorities clashed after the murder of Spartak-fan Egor Sviridov. Bordukov recalls listening to a radio show discussing the events, where a listener related how their children were scared to play on the local football pitch as a group of migrants frequented it. Knowing similar incidents from his own experience, but also examples to the contrary, Bordukov decided to take this setting to tell a story of reconciliation. By nature, he argues, young people will prioritize playing together over seeking nationalist-inspired confrontations. Yet, they are influenced by the uncompromising attitudes of the adults in their direct environment, which plants the seeds for violent confrontations, such as the riots on Manezh Square.

pitchWhile the film engages with the division of society into Russian and non-Russian, Bordukov and his team have been careful to avoid homogenizing either group. Kostia and his three friends, for instance, have diverging interests and characters (one of them even trains to become a ballet dancer) and are evidently shaped by differences in their family situation. To emphasize that the film is not about a single ethnic group, actors of different national backgrounds were cast for the roles of Damir and his team. In addition, the film problematizes the notion of “non-Russian” on several occasions to propose, instead, a non-ethnic definition of national identity (shifting from russkii to rossiiskii). Damir, for example, refuses to identify himself with the migrant community and he is not planning to leave Russia.

Indeed, according to actor Kirill Degtiar’, who plays the role of Damir, “the main message of this film is that it is not important whether we are ethnic Russians or not. We are all Russian citizens, the country is our common home, we live here. In a way, this football pitch and the events surrounding it can be taken as a model of contemporary Russia: we discuss things, we compete, we try to take it [the pitch] away from each other and prove that it is ours. But we are not the ones who built it. So what keeps us from playing here together?” (Press Release).

pitchThe film’s slogan “your pitch, your rules” appears to be well chosen, then, since it summarizes the difficulty of resolving current interethnic tensions, while at the same time it evokes some of Bordukov’s hopes that these can be overcome in the future. If the next generation is brought up with positive values of friendship, loyalty and inclusion, rather than exclusion, the rules of the game may well be changed. And sports, he suggests, can play an important role in stimulating and supporting these changes.

The film features a compelling soundtrack that includes popular Russian rappers Noize MC and L’One. In general, the decent acting and dynamic camerawork and editing make the film pleasant to watch. Fans of street art are furthermore treated to graffiti made especially for the film by Moscow based graffiti collective Zachem.


Notes

1] According to producer Elena Glikman, the total budget amounted to approximately 50 million roubles, of which 24.5 million was covered by the Ministry of Culture and an additional 10 million by Fond Kino (Krainova 2016).

2] According to Fond Kino, the box office gross amounted to 9,928,087 rubles.

Mariëlle Wijermars
University of Amsterdam

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Works Cited

Krainova, Natal’ia. 2016. “Klassnoe kino, no u nas dlia nego lineiki net.” Eto Kavkaz, 20 April.

Press Release, 18 March 2016.

Press Conference, 24 March 2016.


The Pitch, 2016
Color, 99 minutes
Director: Eduard Bordukov
Screenplay: Eduard Bordukov
Director of Photography: Anton Polikarpov
Music: Aleksandr Sokolov
Sound: Andrei Kurchenko
Editing: Aleksandr Koshelev, Ekaterina Pivneva
Cast: Sergei Romanovich, Kirill Degtiar’, Aleksandr Mel’nikov, Sergei Podol’nyi, Georgii Soskin, Oleg Vasil’kov, Stasia Miloslavskaia, Ruslan Nigmatullin, Artem Bashenin, Stepan Tavrizian, Soslan Zaseev, Il’vi Verdiev, Evgeniia Dmitrieva, Vadim Medvedev
General producer: Elena Glikman
Production Film Company: TELESTO, with financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and Fond Kino
Distributor: 25th Floor Film Company

Eduard Bordukov: The Pitch (Korobka, 2016)

reviewed by Mariëlle Wijermars© 2017

Updated: 08 Jan 17