Issue 57 (2017)

Sergei Aksenov: Moscow, I Tolerate You (Moskva, ia terpliu tebia, 2016)

reviewed by Theodora Kelly Trimble © 2017

moskva terplyu tebyaSergei Aksenov’s first feature film, Moscow, I Tolerate You, was released in Russia in October 2016 and flopped at the box office. Aksenov, who enlisted the help of his brother Andrei Aksenov as cameraman, produced the film without any state subsidies. Although originally scheduled to open the previous autumn, production was delayed because of problems in accruing financial support, as Aksenov tried unsuccessfully to raise money through crowd-funding.

The plot is tailored for a romantic comedy: Sasha, an artist, attempts to enjoy a beautiful morning, painting in Moscow. But plans for leisure are thwarted by a number of roadblocks, first professional and then personal. The audience, consequently, is escorted through Sasha’s frenzied chaos while simultaneously taken on a tour of Moscow, all in the course of a single day.

moskva terplyu tebyaOne might choose to read Aksenov’s work against a number of other romantic comedies in which the city functions as the protagonist of the narrative. His film, first, references Moscow, I Love You, a 2010 collage production in which the city plays a central role in each of the film’s novellas. Through the characters’ relationships with the city, Moscow becomes inadvertently responsible for the love stories of its inhabitants. In Aksenov’s work, the love affair with the city has been deliberately—and comically—flipped on its head: rather than serving as the unifying force of relationships, Moscow untethers and rearranges partnerships. The romantic idealism of the urban space is replaced by noise, pressure, and a bit of bad luck. At the same time, however, the notion that the city can simultaneously nurture and hinder love is not a new one. One might recall Michael Hoffman’s American film, One Fine Day (1996), in which George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer spend a hectic, rainy day in the Big Apple and eventually fall in love.

moskva terplyu tebyaAksenov’s technique in showcasing the urban space necessitates further discussion of the star of the film: Moscow, along with its skyline and its monuments. This initiative brings Georgii Daneliia’s I Walk Around Moscow (Ia shagaiu po Moskve, 1963), the cult film favorite of the Thaw generation, to mind. The Moscow that we meet in Aksenov’s film, although still the center of cultural life, is a bustling hub in which walking around the city is time consuming and not easy, and yet the film is robustly filled with attractive snapshots of Moscow’s most famous landmarks: the Kremlin, the Peter the Great Statue, the Bolshoi Theatre. Long shots and tracking shots make Sasha and his fellow characters look small and insignificant against the teeming crowds and imposing architecture. At the same time, such a technique creates an opportunity for Moscow to shine as a major world capital. Aksenov’s work suggests that Moscow, like New York and other global metropoleis, has reached its status as an epicenter of cosmopolitan life.

moskva terplyu tebyaAlthough we are meant to understand Moscow through the prism of its twenty-first century status, the film shows few signs of national, racial, or class diversity. Its characters are consumed by the ringing of cell phones, remodeling, and doing their best not to be hit by moving vehicles. They, unsurprisingly, have Soviet amnesia: the Moscow that is presented to us is, as in much of contemporary Russian cinema, void of all traces of the Soviet past. We are, instead, confronted with businessmen, well-decorated apartments, and of course, traffic. The congestion of the city runs parallel to that of Sasha’s day: romances are crisscrossed, professional ties are shaky, and the characters find themselves in a holding cell at a jail twice in the course of the film. At the end of the day, however, Moscow is responsible for turning the characters’ lives around, lives that they did not even realize were askew.

While interesting that Aksenov’s film adapts the narrative of the beloved city for a romantic comedy, the story itself is rather uninventive and difficult to watch despite the picturesque city views and many funny moments. The film does an interesting job of shedding comic relief on some of the more frustrating aspects of big city life. Towards the beginning of the film, for example, Aksenov focuses attention on the porta potty and hawker activity that surrounds Moscow’s metro stations. Forced to purchase a toy from one of the more persistent peddlers, this item provides a way for Sasha to win over the new object of his affection.

moskva terplyu tebyaIn one sense, the film continues the tradition of building a celluloid image of new middle class lifestyles, family dynamics, morals, and values. Everyone in the film is well off; not even the street vendors are hard up. More than anything, the film builds on the narrative of a strong post-Soviet capital city that does not seem to be experiencing any financial backlashes or signs of recession. The Bank of Moscow is prominently featured in  numerous shots, and it seems that city dwellers are generally comfortable and mobile. For viewers who know their way around the city, the film is a window into a new kind of everyday life that is nothing less than dynamic. For audience members who are unfamiliar with the cityscape, the film is an enjoyable voyeuristic view into the life of the new Muscovite. It is a city with nothing to be ashamed of and with only a prosperous future. For those who are “tolerating” Moscow, Aksenov’s work underscores that this is an affectionate tolerance. The director succeeds in accentuating the love-hate relationship between those living in the capital and the city’s space.

Theodora Kelly Trimble
University of Pittsburgh

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Moscow, I Tolerate You, Russia, 2016.
Color, 97 minutes
Director: Sergei Aksenov
Script: Sergei Aksenov
Cinematography: Andrei Aksenov
Composers: Nikolai Orlovskii
Design: Anastasiia Batalova
Cast: Il’ia Ermolov, Evgenii Morozov, Nikolai Orlovskii, Nina Shishova, Marina Zabelina, Evgenii Volotskii, Denis Shvedov, Ol’ga Aksenova, Dmitrii Suponin, Ul’iana Urvantseva
Producers: Sergei Aksenov, Andrei Aksenov, Il’ia Ermolov,

Sergei Aksenov: Moscow, I Tolerate You (Moskva, ia terpliu tebia, 2016)

reviewed by Theodora Kelly Trimble © 2017