Issue 56 (2017)

Guillaume Protsenko: Wake Me Up (Razbudi menia, 2016)

reviewed by Anna Batori © 2017

On the Bad Choices of the Russian Amélie

razbudi menyaKnown for his excellent documentary works as producer, Guillaume Protsenko decided to try out the director’s seat in this fictional tale. He placed his story into a melodramatic-spiritual frame to make a crime film on the Russian drug mafia and the corrupt police organization that assists it. Unfortunately, Wake Me Up is structured along genre-clichés and, whether it comes in the form of a classic mystery, a thriller full of plot twists, or a love triangle and the heightened emotions of melodrama, Protsenko’s first feature debut remains a boring work—too simple to offer any kind of surprises.

Wake Me Up focuses on an immigration officer, Zhenia (Irina Verbitskaia), who suddenly starts to have prophetic dreams. Not only can she foresee the future, the young woman is also capable of changing it by warning her colleagues of upcoming tragic happenings. First, she dreams about a woman who smuggles heroin in her body and dies of an overdose, which she eventually prevents by asking her colleague to check on the woman while she calls the ambulance. Although the police do not find anything suspicious about the drug smuggler, she suddenly faints and needs urgent medical care, which not only justifies the prophetic skills of Zhenia, but accentuates the importance and weight of her dreams.

As the investigation begins, Zhenia starts to have more and more prophesies, exacerbating her emotionally vulnerable position and making the understanding of the story quite complicated. She is still mourning her boyfriend Andrei (Daniil Vorob’ev) who disappeared more than a year ago, while at the same time, she is falling in love with Stas (Kirill Pirogov), one of the officers assigned to lead the investigation on drug smuggling.

razbudi menyaMessy as it is already, the love story turns into a series of thick commotions, when the emotional turmoil takes over and finally destroys the crime narrative. It soon turns out that Andrei is alive and, what is more, he is in Moscow again, while Zhenia also learns that Stas is part of the corruptive police force responsible for drug smuggling. Disappointed and broken, Zhenia also finds out that her beloved ex-boyfriend, just like Stas, is part of the drug-cartel grid, which was the reason for him leaving the city, and her, behind. The conclusion of Wake Me Up is thus presented as the very fact that Zhenia likes bad guys and is terribly unlucky in love.

Unfortunately, while trying to find a deeper meaning behind the actions of the protagonists—and the director himself—the already muddled narrative gets even more incoherent when Protsenko starts to feature Zhenia in a detective role. Being suspicious about her lover(s) and colleagues, she suddenly finds herself in the midst of crime scenes. Because she foresees the future, she embarks upon visiting the places she dreams about—though the question of how she can find these spots in the metropolis-jungle remains unanswered. Eventually, the lack of verisimilitude that has been hindering the pleasure of spectatorship so far overcomes the story when Zhenia—knowing that Stas will get into a gun-fight—does not prevent the possible death of her new boyfriend.

razbudi menyaIn the final scene, crime and love unite and turn Wake Me Up into absolute kitsch. While Zhenia suddenly chooses to take action, and goes on the run to save her love(rs), it is already too late for any kind of heroic initiative. Unfortunately, the pointless death of Stas in the film and the emotional tsunami that accompanies that scene, one that features Zhenia driving through the wintry landscape of a Russian suburb, distracts from the fact that, besides the melodramatic line, the core of Wake Me Up purports to be an investigation into the source of heroin import in Russia. The substrate of the story, however, is forgotten and is “solved” by everybody dying in the film.

razbudi menyaAlthough it could have been an excellent production that mirrors the underground, politically-driven grid of corrupt officials and the filthy drug business of Putin’s Russia, Protsenko’s film remains a wannabe-crime-film, whose very exploitative basis gets demolished by Zhenia’s confusing dreams and love life. Despite its shortcomings in narrative progression and cause-and-effect structure, however, Wake Me Up operates with a very elaborated, well-photographed visual world. The cold colors of the airport not only mirror the psychological state of Zhenia, they draw attention to the rigid, transitional state of the very space in which the young girl is enclosed. In contrast to this, the long shots of the empty, wintry, rural landscape are not only refreshing, but breathtaking. Luckily, the narrative gap of the film is thus bridged by the perfection of visual compositions and precise camera movements that make the images truly enjoyable. The close-ups of Zhenia, her over-the-shoulder shots that strengthen her perspective, and the detailed framing of the darkness of interior locations all mirror the talent of the cinematographer John Crain, who proves his excellence in visual thinking. Similarly, the performance of the actors—especially that of Verbitskaia and Pirogov—speak of perfection too, and it is such a pity that, despite its talented cast and technical crew, Wake Me Up gets stuck on a mere melodramatic level, brimming with banality and genre-driven commonplaces.

Anna Batori

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Wake me Up, Russia, 2015
Color, 95 minutes, 1:1.85, 5.1
Director Guillaume Protsenko
Scriptwriters Andrei Stempkovskii, Viacheslav Durnenkov
DoP John Crane
Production Design Lesha Lobanov
Music Giorgio Giampa, Igor Vdovin
Editing Ol’ga Grinshpun, Sergei Petrov
Cast: Irina Verbitskaia, Kirill Pirogov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Daniil Vorob’ev, Aleksandra Rebenok, Il’ia Drevnov, Evgenii Grishkovets, Elena Morozova
Producers Tatiana Petrik, Andrei Epifanov
Distribution CineTrain

Guillaume Protsenko: Wake Me Up (Razbudi menia, 2016)

reviewed by Anna Batori © 2017

Updated: 08 Apr 17