Issue 56 (2017)

Elizaveta Kozlova: In the Eye of the Storm (V tsentre tsiklona, 2016)

reviewed by Anastasia Kostina © 2017

In the Eye of the Storm is a short documentary presenting several days in the life of 12-year-old Natasha Kabanova, who lives in the city of Taldom, dividing her time between divorced parents: an alcoholic mother, whose name we never learn, and her father, Iurii, a local moonshiner and aspiring painter. With such a grim setting the film had every chance of becoming yet another painful social documentary drama about the despair and horrors of Russian reality, but this never happens. Quite the opposite—thanks to Natasha’s cheerful and artistic personality the film could almost fall into the rare category of documentary comedy. The contrast of Natasha’s inexhaustible positive energy and bleak reality around her, which the director Elizaveta (Liza) Kozlova catches so well, becomes the backbone of the film.

Itsiklonn the Eye of the Storm is Kozlova’s second documentary film after her debut The Epistle to the Corinthians from a pensioner Nina Mikhailovna (Poslanie k korinfianam ot pensionerki Niny Mikhailovny, 2015).Both documentaries were made during her study at The Marina Razbezhkina and Mikhail Ugarov School of Documentary Film and Theater. As a student of Razbezhkina, she brings into her second film many features of the school’s trademark observational documentary style. There is no non-diegetic soundtrack, no voice-over commentary throughout the film. Kozlova’s hand-held camera follows Natasha everywhere in close proximity: both of her homes, school, hang outs with friends, fights with her enemies. Being a one-woman crew, Kozlova is able to film many intimate moments of Natasha’s life such as the girl fight with her “frenemy” Diana. The episode is shot in night vision and Kozlova’s extreme closeness to her subjects gives the viewer an insight into the merciless yet frail teenage world. Such approach of course comes with limitations: the camera is not always in focus and the sound is not perfect sometimes, but the sincerity and dynamism of the film make up for these technical flaws.

tsiklonThere is also something new, which is not typical for Razbezhkina students’ works. The classic Razbezhkina approach is to become invisible for the subjects, but Natasha frequently addresses Kozlova, who is behind the camera. The girl often shares her thoughts and asks for the director’s opinion. One explanation for this is the film’s very short production cycle. While many Razbezhkina students spend months with their subjects waiting for them to get used to the camera, Kozlova filmed Natasha for just eight days, obviously not long enough to become “unnoticeable.” Those “conversations,” though, do not sabotage the documentary—quite the opposite, they benefit it. In these segments Natasha opens up to the camera, and thus to the viewer, in a way she would not open up to her family and friends. The opening shots show her talking to the camera about how great it is to have bronchitis and stay at the hospital where people bring you goodies and how she is going to eat some snow in the hope of catching the disease. From the first minutes of the film, we realize how deeply in need of care and attention this girl is. Being ignored by her own mother who, for example, indifferently lets her go fight with another girl from school, Natasha chooses Kozlova as a confidante. This intimate connection between the two that is felt throughout the film is what makesIn the Eye of the Storm truly engaging.

Natasha certainly acts for the camera sometimes, but she is so charismatic and her acts are so amusing that it does not interfere with the sense of documentary conveyed by the film. As she hurries to the arranged fight trying to pump herself up, she confesses that “It’s been a week that I want to punch someone.” The words, which on their own are just aggressive, when put together with Natasha’s impulsive childish walk, big colorful backpack, and short wavy bangs, do not sound threatening but endearing. It is impossible not to like her in this minute. The moments of performance also highlight the rare episodes when Natasha truly opens up. One of them is when, during the fight, she starts talking about how her older sister Veronica was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Natasha becomes very emotional; she can hardly finish her sentence and cannot hold back her tears. Her sadness does not last long, though, and very soon the “chin up” Natasha we know is back as she pronounces her triumph over Diana and enthusiastically plans how she will tell everyone at school about her victory.

tsiklonGiven the topic and the style of the film it is hard not to think of another one of Razbezhkina’s students, who also debuted with a documentary about teenage girls—Valeria Gai Germanika. Back in 2005, her film Girls (Devochki, 2005) stirred a great deal of controversy, paving the way for Germanika’s future scandalous projects Everybody Dies but Me (Vse umrut a ia ostanus’, 2008) and School (Shkola, 2010). While having many points of similarity with Germanika’s first film, In the Eye of the Storm is hardly controversial. Kozlova’s subjects also fight, swear, and smoke like Germanika’s do, but that is not what the film is about. In the Eye of the Storm is first of all about resilience.

According to Marina Razbezhkina, the choice of protagonist is the main factor for an interesting and engaging documentary. The ideal protagonist is emotional, reflexive, and able to act naturally in front of the camera. (Razbezhkina, 2012). Kozlova listened to her teacher carefully and chose well. Being caught between childhood and adolescence, Natasha takes from both worlds—she is open, spontaneous, naive and at the same time cynical, brisk, but vulnerable. Above all, she is a very charismatic character and Kozlova very much succeeds in capturing her complexity showing the viewer what it feels like to be caught in the eye of a storm.

Anastasia Kostina
Yale University

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Works Cited

Razbezhkina, Marina. 2012. “Documentary Workshop” at Amedia Studios, Moscow. 12 December.

In the Eye of the Storm, Russia, 2016
Color, 44 min.
Director: Elizaveta Kozlova
Cinematography: Elizaveta Kozlova
Producer: Marina Razbezhkina

Elizaveta Kozlova: In the Eye of the Storm (V tsentre tsiklona, 2016)

reviewed by Anastasia Kostina © 2017