Issue 58 (2017)

Vladimir Kozlov: Anomie (Anomiia, 2016)

reviewed by Anna Batori© 2017

anomiaVladimir Kozlov’s Anomie wrestles with such weighty problems as remembering the Communist past and facing the very multicultural structure of Russia. This heavy context gives home to the tragic story of a love triangle through which the hopeless social situation of the present-day Federation gets portrayed. Depressing as it sounds already, Kozlov embraces the gloomy narrative set-up with a strong black-and-white tone that gives the film a suffocating, oppressive atmosphere. Together with the heavy silence and cold city– and landscapes that accompany the scenes, Anomie turns into one of the gloomiest experiments aiming to depict present-day Russia. The effort to touch upon all the social concerns characteristic of the country while using the possibly bluest aesthetics to mediate the portrait of an alienated society makes the film a way too big attempt to achieve an aesthetic-thematic cohesion. Kozlov wants to communicate all the problems that the Federation faces in a single film, which turns out to be an impossible task. In this way, Anomie only scratches the surface of the current social crisis of the country, and is incapable to offer a deeper, emotionally developed standpoint that would help the spectator to identify with the problems portrayed in the film.

Set in Kaliningrad, Anomie centers around best friends Olia (Iuliia El’tsova) and Ania (Dar’ia Selezneva), who aimlessly drift from one day to the next. The girls enjoy their youth to the fullest, with partying, drinking and spending a lot of time at the wintry seaside. While Ania works in a small laundry shop in one of the local malls and gets some extra money from her one-night stands, Olia studies at a university and fights a lot with her alcoholic father. Alcohol is a recurring motif of the film that connects the characters and it seems that vodka is the main bond between the girls and the new boyfriend of Ania, Igor (Andrei Varenitsyn) as well. Interestingly, the couple hardly spends any time alone but invites Olia to all their programs—be that a grill-party at the riverside or love-making in the presence of the young girl. This unusual threesome gets even weirder when Olia starts an affair with Igor—something that Ania cannot tolerate. In revenge, she lets her rival to be beaten up by some friends, which eventually leads to the vengeance of Olia and Igor who murder Ania.

anomiaKozlov builds the structure of the film around the paucity of dialogue, long shots and surprising comments of random passers-by, who all have great revelations on religion, history and existential questions. Because the whole story is devoid of spoken words -- that is, the girls and Igor hardly communicate with each other -- the incongruous annunciations on history, alienation and the social situation sound rather ridiculous and out of context. In the laundry shop, for instance, a middle-aged customer starts talking about the alienated quality of the mall and her memories of the 1980s, when there was still a connection amongst people. Because her words come without proper contextualization, the arguments and the whole scene seem alien to the spectator. It is no wonder that Ania stares at the woman in utter boredom, and when asked whether she understands what the customer is talking about, she shakes her head in disinterest. In another scene, the youngsters are yelled at by an elderly man for consuming alcohol in public. When Ania answers the man arrogantly, he tells the group that he wishes Stalin was alive, for he would teach them of how to behave. Igor then angrily starts to curse Stalin and almost hits the man. In a similar vein, we hear a university lecture about how great Russia is and how the West tries to exploit the country and turn it into another market for consumer products, while destroying it through mass culture. In a further episode, Kozlov gives us a glimpse of a man greeting people with “Allah Akbar”, while in another, he criticizes the Orthodox Church by depicting a priest drinking vodka and praying empty words on a train. What is common to these scenes is that they all try to communicate a heavy, critical message of the institutional pillars of Russian society by putting these messages into a very episodic and decontextualized form. Because the whole story of devoid of action, these sequences get special attention, but they do so on the altar of authenticity. The teaching that comes from the mouths of strangers sounds completely theatrical and does not fit into the narrative progression of the film.

anomiaAlthough Kozlov obviously intends to deliver a political message with his film, thus illustrating how the new generation – raised in a consumerist-capitalist liberal social structure—is incapable of identifying with their elders and disinterested in the historio-political processes that formed the country, his aim to emphasize alienation meets great obstacles in the very process of mediation. The episodic form, built around great statements that come out of the mouths of random strangers, is further broken down by a mosaic-like narrative form that establishes no connection between the scenes. Igor, Ania and Olia drift from one day to the next, walking great distances in the city and at the seaside, or just existing in silence while drinking and sitting next to each other. Unfortunately, the emptiness of their days and their utter lack of motivation cannot outweigh the action, so much so that the resistance to the spoken words contributes to a pointless drift marked by the above-mentioned empty, great wisdoms and history lessons. The happenings of Anomie thus form a plot that intends to mirror ill-fated contemporary Russian society, but despite—or rather, because of—the illustration of domestic abuse, serious alcoholism and a widening generation gap between the socialist and capitalist layer of the society, the film cannot bear the weight of such a heavy topic, and slowly collapses under its burden.

anomiaIt is, of course, not the thematic content that dooms Anomie to failure, but rather the amateurish aesthetics that contextualize the message of alienation. The episodic form does not give way to a deeper level of understanding or identification with the characters and their problems, a problem that is only exacerbated by the heavy silence that surrounds them. Without a clear motivation and a real, well-structured conflict, the scenes fall into a black hole that swallows all the messages that Kozlov puts into the mouths of the strangers that cross the path of the youngsters. Unfortunately, the black-and-white format, the poor acting and serious formal mistakes—such as the amateurish play with focus in some scenes and the pseudo-artistic sequences that aim to raise the artistic level of the film—only stress the theatrical, artificial quality of Anomie. Had Kozlov chosen a more realistic, documentary-like form to tell his story, the film would have been a more human, genial production. With less-artificial photography and a less-theatrical approach to the pro-filmic space and dialogues, and with more sequences that dig deep into the life of the young as well as the older generation, Anomie could have been a great mirror to illustrate the rotten state of interpersonal relations in modern Russian society. The beauty of the images—black-and-white, nighttime shots of Kaliningrad; the wintery landscape of the sea and the meticulously structured frontal portrayals of the threesome – show a great potential for Kozlov to create an admirable work of art. However, despite the aesthetics of contrasts and the important message the film wants to communicate, Anomie gets lost in its episodic formula.

Anna Batori
University of Glasgow

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Anomie, Russia, 2016
B/W, 67 minutes
Director: Vladimir Kozlov
Scriptwriter: Vladimir Kozlov
Editing: Artur Anayan and Stepan Turchenko
Cinematography: Artur Saakian
Music: Stok 12
Cast: Iuliia El’tsova, Dar’ia Selezneva, Andrei Varenitsyn
Producers: Nelli Muminova, Aleksandr Egai, Vladimir Kozlov
Production: Platzkart Production

Vladimir Kozlov: Anomie (Anomiia, 2016)

reviewed by Anna Batori© 2017

Updated: 2017