Issue 57 (2017)

Fedor Bondarchuk: Attraction (Pritiazhenie, Russia, 2017)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2017

prityazhenieThe opening scenes of Attraction depict an alien named Khekon (Rinal’ Mukhametov) crash landing in the Moscow suburban district of Chertanovo after his spaceship is diverted towards Earth by a meteor shower. Upon entering Russian airspace, fighter jets damage Khekon’s ship, causing it to take out a city block of Soviet-era flats, killing scores of Russians. The spaceship ends up in the middle of Chertanovo, setting up the action of the film in which Russia meets its new alien immigrant.

Khekon’s arrival is quite literally sexualized. Scenes of the spaceship’s penetration of Russian territory are juxtaposed with a sex scene between a Muscovite Iulia and her boyfriend Artem. As Artem forces himself onto Iulia, the damaged spaceship descends into Moscow, on a collision course with the city and the two lovers. Khekon’s spaceship crashes into the top of the apartment, interrupting the act and almost killing the two. Iulia’s best friend is actually killed in the crash, and the relationship between Iulia and Artem comes to an abrupt end. Iulia eventually finds Khekon, a relationship with the alien ensues, and the spurned Artem sparks a nationalist riot amongst Chertanovo citizens bound under the slogans, “This is our land (zemlia)!” “And Earth is for Earthlings!”

If this isn’t convoluted enough, this all plays out in the midst of a ridiculous father-daughter family drama between Iulia and her father, Colonel Lebedev (Oleg Men’shikov), who just so happens to be in charge of local Russian armed forces who impose martial law in the district.

prityazhenieFedor Bondarchuk has boasted in interviews that Attraction is one of Russia’s very first alien invasion films. While the alien invasion film picked up in the United States in the 1950s at the start of the Cold War, this genre did not grace the silver screen in the Soviet Union. Rebuilding and healing after the Great Patriotic War, Soviet cinema could not imagine new transgressions of Soviet space by unknown, more technologically advanced enemies. Cinema instead took on the task of mythologizing the heroic past, depicting Soviets as a peaceful people who were willing to defend the motherland at all costs.

prityazhenieIt is not surprising then that Bondarchuk’s last blockbuster film before Attraction was the Great Patriotic War epic Stalingrad (2013). Both films were shot in 3D and IMAX and have had extensive international distribution. Where Attraction differs from Stalingrad, is that while Stalingrad draws from Soviet cinema’s mythologizing of Soviet history, Attraction derives from the cinematic tropes of Hollywood and Western alien invasion films. Bondarchuk liberally, and at times sloppily, borrows motifs and plots from several well-known alien invasion films. A single alien’s arrival in Moscow immediately recalls the American sci-fi classic and its remake, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951/2008). Khekon comes from a society of immortals who have perfected their utopia, and by comparison, Russia’s ugliness is put on center stage. Humanity’s only redemption comes from the innocence and selflessness of the heroine Iulia.

biryulevoThe most obvious film that Bondarchuk has studied is Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009).[1] Blomkamp’s film used the alien arrival narrative to critique the legacy of South Africa’s Apartheid. Similarly, Attraction features a sci-fi allegory based on the Biriulevo riots of 2013, when an immigrant murder case resulted in riots where nationalist locals attacked immigrant-owned shops and kiosks. The event had significant long-term ramifications as police arrested 1,200 immigrants and the Moscow City Administration eventually closed the immigrant-run Pokrovskaia market in the suburb. In fact, West Biriulevo is the neighboring district to Chertanovo, so Bondarchuk’s choice of setting is not coincidental. Bondarchuk uses a narrative very similar to Blomkamp’s to discuss racial tensions in contemporary Russia, although his allegorical ties are much weaker and less effective.[2] In fact, it was only when the film premiered that Bondarchuk revealed that the story was motivated by the events in Biriulevo.

prityazhenieThis is not to say that Biriulevo itself has been avoided in the cultural imagination of Russians. Internet users have created their own cultural references to Biriulevo, even using cinema to generate memes. For instance, old photos of an advertising campaign in Biriulevo for Resident Evil 3 (2007) were circulated after 2013, as they acquired new contextual meaning.

Attraction is a contemporary riff on old imperial anxieties of immigration. Khekon’s spaceship transgresses Russia’s boundaries and while sitting in the middle of Chertanovo, the ship steals the region’s drinking water in order to make repairs. The handsome alien, played by an ethnic Tatar, “steals away” a young Russian woman from her blue-eyed Russian boyfriend, leaving him no recourse but to “take back his neighborhood.”

prityazhenieWhat is interesting about Bondarchuk’s use of allegory is that it locates the film in one specific Moscow suburb, Chertanovo,[3] while bucking the trend of recent sci-fi invasion films such as Independence Day (1996) that portray the arrival of alien spaceships against the backdrop of instantly recognizable cityscapes. Rather than seeing alien spaceships hovering over iconic Moscow sites, we are stuck in a monochromatic outlying suburb. It seems that Bondarchuk narrowed the film’s geographical scope for a number of reasons. Firstly, instead of representing the Russian president, Bondarchuk enlists Sergei Garmash in the role of Deputy Prime Minister. Surely, Bondarchuk does not want to show Vladimir Putin’s Russia under attack. Secondly, by placing the plot solely in Chertanovo, the film holds steady its allegorical focus under the local microscope. Attraction covers the spectacle of alien contact as a Russia-centered event, and as a Russia-centered problem.

Interestingly, Bondarchuk shows the rise of nationalism in Russia as in connection with the rise of digital media. As Artem gathers his crew of hooligans, we see nationalist slogans overlaid on the screen, mimicking social network activity. Artem is featured in YouTube videos, which allows him to become the leader of an angry mob that is mobilized to attack Khekon at the close of the film. But Bondarchuk softens and distorts his critique of Russian nationalism in a several ways. He includes a token Central Asian character with Artem’s sidekicks, who are stereotypical representations of hooligans and skinheads. More interestingly, by depicting the state as intolerant of extremist nationalist sentiment and even sympathetic to the alien immigrant, he recasts the allegorical mirror of what happened at Biriulevo when the city cracked down hard on immigrants in response to the unrest. In Bondarchuk’s retelling, on the other hand, Colonel Lebedev’s troops put down the uprising of an angry mob, thus allowing Khekon to leave in peace.

prityazhenieAttraction, then, is exactly what we can expect from a new Russian blockbuster. It borrows from cinematic tropes of popular western films, pairing high quality visuals with ideologically correct content. Attraction cost around 6 million dollars to make and grossed over 18 million dollars in Russia alone, with the film garnering mostly favorable reviews.[4] The film stands to make more money abroad, where it will be distributed by Sony Pictures in the second half of 2017. Bondarchuk’s unwillingness to cater to the international audience is where the film will fail. District 9 became a monumental success because its intelligible allegory piqued people’s interest to go watch a low budget South African sci-fi film. Not only do few in the West know of Biriulevo, the film does not make any gestures to help foreign audiences understand its Russian peculiarities. Foreign audiences will not recognize Tatar actor Rinal’ Mukhametov (Khekon) as an ethic other, minimizing the film’s critique of nationalism and immigration. This misplaced opportunity is obvious at one point of the film, as Iulia offers an apology and explanation for Khekon’s unusual presence on the streets of Moscow: “He is from Peter[sburg].” Although international box office success will decide if future Attractions will be made, Bondarchuk ended the film with a cliffhanger, leaving open the possibility that Attraction can become a Russian sci-fi franchise.


Notes

1] Curiously, Bondarchuk cites Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy as the main inspiration for Attraction (Macnab 2017).

2] Bondarchuk also seems to have borrowed Blomkamp’s fascination with exoskeletons. Much of the plot revolves around the Artem’s theft of an alien exoskeleton, which plays a prominent part at the film’s close.  

3] Chertanovo’s Formula Kino Theater hosted Attraction’s premiere before its star-studded premier two days later at the October Theater.

4] See Tsyrkun 2017, Stepanov 2017, and Trofimenkov 2017 for examples of favorable reviews.

Andrew Chapman
Dartmouth College

Comment on this article on Facebook

Works Cited

Macnab, Geoffrey. 2017. “Russian alien invasion film ‘Attraction’: If it succeeds, it is likely to usher in a brave new era of Russian sci-fi blockbusters.” The Independent 4 January.

“Pilot.” 2007. “Vostochnoe Biriulevo – Obitel’ Zla 3!” DiNews.ru. 20 September.

Stepanov, Vasilii. 2017. “ ‘Pritiazhenie’: Okh, uzh eto vashe Chertanovo.” Seans 26 January.

Trofimenkov, Mikhail. 2017. “Dobro i NLO: Fedor Bondarchuk snail ‘Pritiazhenie’”. Kommersant 26 January.

Tsyrkun, Nina. 2017. “Shapka Kharitona. ‘Pritiazhenie’, rezhisser Fedor Bondarchuk.” Iskusstvo kino 26 January.


Attraction, Russia, 2017
Color, 132 min.
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Script: Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev
Producers: Aleksandr Andriushchenko, Fedor Bondarchuk, Michael Kitaev, Dmitrii Rudovskii, Mikhail Vrubel’
Cinematographer: Mikhail Khasaia
Composer: Ivan Burliaev, Dmitrii Noskov
Production Design: Zhanna Pakhomova
Special Effects: Il’ia Vorobev
Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Aleksandr Petrov, Rinal’ Mukhametov, Oleg Men’shikov, Sergei Germash
Production: Art Pictures Studio, Fond Kino, Vodorod, Columbia Pictures
Distributor: Sony Pictures

Fedor Bondarchuk: Attraction (Pritiazhenie, Russia, 2017)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2017

Updated: 11 Jul 17