Issue 59 (2018)

Aleksei Rybin: All Will End Soon (Skoro vse konchit’sia, 2017)

reviewed by Laura Todd© 2018

skoro vse Aleksei Rybin’s debut film, All Will End Soon, tells the story of an ordinary worker in St Petersburg: Misha Nosov (Mikhail Sivorin) does his job well, works overtime where necessary, and spends his free time watching television and listening to the radio. Misha is from Cheliabinsk and therefore knows no-one in the city; he goes to rock concerts alone and gets drunk. At home, while the television blares in the background, he surfs the internet. Much of his hard-earned wages are spent going to brothels for some kind of human interaction, and it is during one of these visits that he meets the prostitute ‘Diana’ (Kseniia Skakun), whose real name is Katia, as we find out later. Diana/Katia shows less indifference to him than the other girls he visits, and Misha develops a reliance on her, not just for sexual gratification, but as an escort and, increasingly, substitute wife. He hires Diana/Katia to wait for him at home, go shopping and cook for him when he gets back from work, and to accompany him on aimless walks around St Petersburg’s dreary streets. Katia is at times visibly repelled by him, particularly by his habit of watching the extensive commentaries of Russian news reports on the war between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and pro-Russian Separatists in the Eastern Ukraine. As Nosov becomes increasingly obsessive in his routines and more violent in his defense of Russia’s actions, Katia becomes more and more frustrated with her situation. She loses her temper and reveals that she only became a prostitute to pay for expensive medical treatment. When Nosov gives her money to pay for this treatment (supposedly for her mother), it is revealed that Katia is in fact from Kiev and her passionate defense of the ‘West’ becomes clear.

Regardless of the topic, any film by Aleksei Rybin was bound to cause a stir in the Russian film circuit. Rybin, a first-time director who has previously worked as a scriptwriter, is more well-known for his musical credits. In the early 1980s he garnered fame as a guitarist and one of the founders of the band Kino, although he left the group early over creative differences with Viktor Tsoi. In the years following Tsoi’s death, Rybin returned to the topic of Kino and its role in Russian culture, publishing “Kino” s samogo nachala i do samogo kontsa (“Kino” from the very beginning to the very end, Rybin 1992). In the following years, he became known for his writing on musical culture as well as his fictional novels, many of which focused on the music industry (see Rybin 2001; 2008; 2010; 2013). Unsurprisingly, the figure of Tsoi has haunted the appearance of All Will End Soon. In interviews around the film’s release, many critics discussed the role that Tsoi and Kino could have potentially played in Rybin’s cinematographic choices (RIA Novosti, 2017; KinotavrTV, 2017). Although having written extensively on Kino in the past, Rybin was adamant to avoid any references to Tsoi in his debut film, stating: “Our film features music that fits our story, but ‘Kino’ is from a completely different film” (RIA Novosti, 2017). Here he refers to Tsoi and Kino’s own history with cinema, particularly the soundtrack to perestroika-era films about youth. Kino’s rousing song for the pro-democracy era, “Changes!” (“Peremen!”), featuring the iconic lyrics “we are waiting for change”, was the centre-piece of Sergei Solov’ev’s film ASSA (1987). Later, Tsoi turned to acting in Rashid Nugmanov’s film The Needle (Igla, 1988), and the soundtrack for the film was constructed around Kino’s songs. Since that time, rock music has been key to many films which mourned the loss of freedom that the conversion to capitalism brought to post-Soviet Russia (see Todd 2017).

skoro vseWhile Rybin may have indeed wanted to avoid too close a comparison with his own past, the Soviet past, the loss of direction in the post-Soviet period, and the collapse of relations between former “brotherly states” saturates the film’s entirety. All Will End Soon is the story of a country stuck between past and present, living a vicious cycle of collapse and re-collapse, precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the news reports on the contemporary conflict between Russia and Ukraine over the issue of separatism in Eastern Ukraine, mentions of the USSR and US pop up with alarming frequency, contributing to the sense that the Cold War continues to rage through war in Ukraine. The emphasis is here on the idea that the fall of the Soviet Union did not precipitate the end of the conflicts between East and West on the European continent—a concept that has been floated constantly since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Meanwhile, if you had ever wondered what happened to the Stakhanovite worker after the collapse of communism, we are allowed a glimpse of him in his post-Soviet guise. Gone are the muscles, golden skin and joyful smiles of the original shock-worker and the glittering troops; he has been replaced by a thin man, whose hallowed face suggests his unhealthiness, who rarely smiles, and spends too much time drinking to excess and chain-smoking cigarettes. The film’s background characters decide that he is creepy, and there is little to contradict this opinion of him. Yet a Stakhanovite in some form he is, as his embittered co-worker notes: Nosov is a gifted lathe-turner (a tokar’ of Soviet fame), who learnt his trade from watching his father at work. His post-Soviet reality—the persistent lack of money or the security of a wider family, and a penchant for activities that would have been frowned upon in Soviet society—reflects changes in the lives of workers across Russia. One of Nosov’s colleagues, Pavel Iurich (Sergei Losev), repeatedly regales him with tales of how the Party (that is, the Communist Party) can help him bring meaning and structure to his life. Starting as a tongue-in-cheek cliché of the older generation longing for the bright past of communism, Pavel Iurich becomes an increasingly tragic figure as the narrative progresses. The film’s mocking of his steadfast adherence to the communist roots of the proletariat drifts into sorrow as the narrative reflects back on feelings perhaps felt by many in his generation: that life was joyful and happy then—even if Stalin was a bad man. It represents a deep and completely understandable feeling of loss amongst some of the older generation in Russia. However, dark humor returns in Pavel Iurich’s untimely demise; he does not die from old age, but shock, when he sees his estranged son speaking at a liberal opposition rally, presumably on the side of the old man’s greatest enemy—America.
The film’s topic was bound to cause controversy. Whilst lamenting on the state of Russia’s contemporary proletariat and its moral demise in the inertia of capitalism, much of the narrative revolves around Nosov’s obsessive tracing of the war in Eastern Ukraine. The Donbass, once home to the Soviet Union’s most productive miners and home of the original Stakhanov, has become more famous for its muddled war between Russia and Ukraine. In between his shifts, arguments over legality, Russian irregulars, and the tragic shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, whirl around Nosov’s consciousness through his interactions with television and radio media. By night, his dreary, darkened flat is garishly lit by the bright colors of the scenes of the war, the words of shattered Ukrainian-Russian civilians blast out onto Nosov’s unchanging countenance. By day, he turns to his fellow lathe-operators for their opinions, none of whom can match his fervor or interest on the topic. He becomes increasingly drawn to the patriotic elements of the argument, which bring him into direct confrontation with Katia’s more liberal tendencies and respect for European life (which Nosov refers to at one point as ‘Gayvropa’). The revelation that Katia is in fact from Ukraine and needs the money not to heal her mother, but to pay for her Ukrainian soldier-husband’s treatment for burns in a Berlin hospital, is indeed a bit of a clichéd climax for the film. But it doesn’t quite fall into the patterns of expectations from such endings. While the film’s synopsis suggests that Nosov undergoes a fundamental change in values, this personality change is not obvious. Nosov shows no overt change of heart from the revelation: he doesn’t become emotional when finding out that his substitute wife is in fact married to and in love with another man; he continues along his path of inertia as if Katia had never existed. Nor does he outwardly reject his patriotic feelings, albeit his excessive consumption of television stops. There is a sense that there is no real resolution.

skoro vseOne of the most interesting things about the film has been the critical reception and how critics have inferred various meanings and influences onto the narrative. These strengthen the sense that the film is as much about the past as it is about the present. The film received a stormy reaction when it was screened at Kinotavr, in particular from critics who lambasted the film’s topic, but also Rybin’s choice of score (KinotavrTV, 2017). In the press conference that followed the screening, one of the journalists reacted particularly violently, asking Rybin if he recognized his role as the creator of a “filthy, propagandistic agitka,” an agitka also being a reference to Soviets’ preferred form of manipulation (KinotavrTV, 2017). It resulted in a war of words between the director, the journalist and the press-conference’s moderator, the former appearing openly amused by the journalist’s outburst. Yet this isn’t the only Russian film to explore the legacies and outcomes of the Ukraine conflict in recent years. If we want to continue comparisons or trace echoes of Rybin’s peak during perestroika, the war in Ukraine has become the contemporary equivalent of the revelatory explorations of the highly-controversial Soviet-Afghan War in the last years of the Soviet Union. The major difference is that the contemporary situation has been fuelled by nationalism in a way that the Soviet-Afghan War was not.

Furthermore, the last protagonist to be seen wandering aimlessly along the desolate and cold streets and canal paths of St Petersburg, accompanied by a powerful rock soundtrack, was Aleksei Balabanov’s Danila Bagrov from the Brother (Brat, 1997). This is compounded by the connections between Balabanov and the rock community, starting in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), and comparisons between Rybin’s own life and film-making experience, which were highlighted in the press conference (KinotavrTV 2017; on Balabanov and filming rock, see Kuvshinova 2013 and Todd 2017). Yet St Petersburg, for all the similarities, is a different place. Nosov does not become embroiled in criminal ventures, even during his regular forays into the world of prostitution, and the soundtrack has changed. Nosov is a Stakhanovite of Putin’s time, but he can also be interpreted as a Danila of his time. The soundtrack of the 1980s and 1990s has changed. Those hoping that Viktor Tsoi and Rybin’s former band Kino might return in this marred post-Soviet world will be disappointed. Yet this does not suggest that the score is any less stirring and evocative of St Petersburg’s bleak waterfronts and industrial estates. One song by the local, St Petersburg-based band Affinazh, “Nravitsia” (“I like it”), mournfully fills many of Nosov’s wanderings. The name of the band alone, derived from the term for refining metals, is a suitable choice for a film about a lathe-operator, but it is the sound of lead singer, Em Kalinin, that echoes some of the sounds of Nautilus Pompilius.

skoro vseUndoubtedly, the tradition of Nautilus and other Russian rock bands would have been influential during Affinazh’s earlier years, but a clear difference is made. At the Kinotavr press-conference, the director and film’s producer, Igor’ Gudkov, had differing opinions over the level of influence that Balabanov had on the film. Rybin declared that he hadn’t thought of Balabanov at all and aligned the film with Trainspotting, which is also centered around (British) rock, rather than being solely connected to the Russian rock influences of Brother (KinotavrTV, 2017). Gudkov, on the other hand, disagreed: he states that Balabanov’s depictions of St Petersburg did naturally have an influence on his production choices (KinotavrTV 2017). The producer argued that he had sought out bands that echoed some of the sounds of bands as Nautilus, but both director and producer agreed that having the music of acts, such as Agata Kristi, Alisa or DDT, would have created a film that mimicked Balabanov’s style too much. The music in the contemporary film is distinctly more modern than that of Brother, fitting a new age of musical production. Affinazh, along with other featured bands, Daite Tank (!), mix rock with different styles: the former with “screaming”, and the latter with reggae. To this author’s ear, the choice of musical acts was ideal and boosted some of the weaker parts of the film’s construction. The noise of the media is beautifully juxtaposed with the noise of the soundtrack.

All Will End Soon is a film that will likely continue to divide audiences and its reception should it have a general release. Some of the audience will feel that the choice of a narrative on patriotism and war is the most controversial aspect. Other critics will remain averted by the hyper-modern style of the film’s soundtrack. Yet others might lament that a film which holds a lot of promise is let down by a clichéd ending for its powerful narrative.

Laura Todd
University of Nottingham

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Works Cited

KinotavrTV. 2017. “Press-konferentsiia konkursnogo fil’ma ‘Skoro vse konchit’sia’.”

Kuvshinova, Mariia. 2013. “Nachalo: ‘Schastlivye dni’ i ‘Zamok’.” In Balabanov ed. by Liubov’ Arkus, Mariia Kuvshinova, and Konstantin Shavlovskii. St Petersburg: Knizhnye masterskie; Masterskaia «Seans».

RIA Novosti. 2017. “Byvshii uchastnik gruppy ‘Kino’ predstavil na ‘Kinotavre’ svoi debiutnyi fil’m.” RIA Novosti 11June. 

Rybin, Aleksei. 1992. “Kino” s samogo nachala do samogo kontsa. Izdatel’stvo ‘Smiadyn’.

Rybin, Aleksei. 2001. Firma. Politbiuro.

Rybin, Aleksei. 2008. Chernye iaitsa. Limbus Press.

Rybin, Aleksei. 2010. Maik. Vremia rok-n-rolla. St Petersburg: Amfora.

Rybin, Aleksei. 2013. Tri Kita: BG, Maik, Tsoi. St Petersburg: Amfora.

Todd, Laura. 2017. “Mourning the Lost Days of Perestroika in Balabanov’s Brother.” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 11(3): 212–227.

All will End Soon, Russia, 2016
Color, 112 min.
Director and Scriptwriter: Aleksei Rybin
Cinematography: Vladimir Bryliakov
Production Design Maria Zolina
Editing Vladimir Bezzubchenko
Sound: Aleksei Gorshenev
Cast: Mikhail Sivorin, Oksana (Kseniia) Skakun, Sergei Losev, Igor’ Golovin, Ivan Batarev, Lidiia Batareva, Natalia Indeikina
Producers: Igor’ Gudkov, Aleksei Rybin
Production Film Company Shark

Aleksei Rybin: All Will End Soon (Skoro vse konchit’sia, 2017)

reviewed by Laura Todd© 2018

Updated: 2018