Issue 61 (2018)

Aleksandr Molochnikov: Myths (Mify, 2017)

reviewed by Mariëlle Wijermars© 2018

mifyMyths is a comedy directed by young actor and theatre director Aleksandr Molochnikov that raised high expectations, if only because of its impressive cast. The film brings together leading cultural figures and media personalities—from Ivan Urgant to Kseniia Sobchak—who, through self-parodies, create a satirical play on Moscow’s high society. Acclaimed actor Sergei (Sergei Bezrukov) experiences a mental breakdown because he has played “all the roles” and longs to find himself (his venture into winemaking proved to be of no avail). Film producer Fedor (Fedor Bondarchuk) continuously refers to himself as “the last hope of Russian cinema” and is abducted by a 90s-style gangster (Maksim Sukhanov) who wants to claim back the money (limon) he invested in a video clip back in the day. TV-host Ivan (Ivan Urgant) ends up in a marital crisis because he cannot stop joking.

The plotline is structured around the arrival of a young man, referred to simply as “the Greek” (Yiannis Papadopoulos), who interprets reality in terms of Greek mythology. In his attempt to traverse the same route as Odysseus on a self-built raft, he accidently ends up in Moscow at the house of twin brothers Igor’ and Vadim (Vernik). When Igor’ drowns his brother in the river over a dispute about his artistic qualities, the Greek (now a witness to a crime) is dragged along to a charity fundraising event hosted by Igor’. There, the viewer is introduced to the rest of the characters (all seen from the “outsider” perspective of the Greek), including conservative Duma member Liudmila Mishkina (Irina Rozanova) and her two daughters, Mariia and Miia (a double role played by Paulina Andreeva). The film unfolds in ten chapters, each dedicated to one of the main characters and their mythical counterpart. The Greek’s attempt to win the love of Mariia, the host of a gardening TV show whom he sees as his Aphrodite, and the ill-fated advisory services he provides to the capital’s elite shape the action that follows.

mifyAs Larisa Iusipova has pointed out, “the celebrities do not play themselves, but their public image” (Iusipova 2017). The self-irony, therefore, is relatively harmless. For example, Fedor’s dedication to running, yoga, macrobiotics and gluten-free foods pokes fun at current fads and the affluent who can afford them, but the jokes rarely sting. The starkest satire can perhaps be found in the role of Duma member Mishkina, who appears to be modeled on Elena Mizulina. As one of the most visible proponents of conservatism in present-day Russia—she is the (co)-author of, for example, legal initiatives seeking to restrict online freedom of speech and LGBT rights—the reference to Mizulina can be read as criticism on the language of “traditional” family values that has permeated into political discourse in recent years. Here, the fact that the character of Mishkina, who is said to have passed laws against kissing and holding hands on the street, is presented as the personification of Medusa, is highly suggestive.

mifyMaking your feature film debut with a star-laden comedy, in which major Russian celebrities ridicule themselves, is no mean feat. Whether Molochnikov succeeded in living up to expectations, however, can be questioned. One particular weakness of the film lies in the way it incorporates musical elements. While, on the one hand, the songs are used to express the central emotions connected to each of the mythical characters, the staging of the performances, on the other hand, simultaneously ridicules the genre that recently received renewed acclaim with such films as La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016). A more sincere adoption of the genre may, in fact, have been more productive for the film’s overall coherence and appeal than the addition of yet another layer of irony.

The film received, at best, mixed reviews. In addition to pointing out flaws in the script that make the film feel somewhat episodic, a certain degree of self-absorption that is evident from this play on the Moscow Olympus and its heroes gave cause for criticism. While some expressed modest hopes the film’s humor could still appeal to audiences “beyond the Garden Ring” of Moscow, (Kataev 2017) Igor’ Sukmanov took the matter more seriously:

In his attempt to mock the life of the lions of the capital’s high society, visibly hinting at belonging to them himself, he [Molochnikov] naively believes to entertain the audience with luxury, stars’ grimaces and current markers of the time. However, instead of meaning, the project lays bare a dizzying emptiness of consciousness. By addressing his fantasy to a mass audience, the director has become like an apocryphal Marie-Antoinette, who proposed to feed cake to those who have no bread (Sukmanov 2017). 

It will, indeed, be difficult for most viewers to find elements in the film they can relate to, while, at the same time, the film fails to be engaging enough to otherwise keep them entertained to the end.

mifyA small scandal emerged on the day of the film’s release when a video appeared online of a conflict between director Molochnikov and Bondarchuk, who was also one of the producers. The clip shows an emotional exchange of (incomprehensible) words, culminating in Bondarchuk punching Molochnikov in the face and pushing him aside. The only intelligible phrase is pronounced by Bondarchuk as he leaves the room, exclaiming: “Those young people!” (Ekh, molodezh’!). Molochnikov appeared that same day on TV channel Dozhd’ to deny he was assaulted by Bondarchuk, while dressed in a black, hooded sweater pulled over his head and hiding one side of his face behind his raised hand (Kataev 2017). The timing of the clip’s appearance caused many to suspect it was a PR-stunt to draw attention to the release—a claim denied by the director. In an interview with online news platform Ridus, Molochnikov stated that he did indeed incur physical trauma and had sought medical help, but claimed the incident occurred earlier and was in no way related to the film’s release (Fladung 2017). Why he then shielded off the left side of his face while appearing on Dozhd’ that same day, however, remains unclear.

Mariëlle Wijermars
Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

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Works Cited

Fladung, Katerina. 2017. “Izbityi rezhisser rasskazal o konflikte s Federom Bondarchukom”. Ridus, 16 November.

Iusipova, Larisa. 2017. “’Mify’ – fil’m s rossiiskimi zvezdami vo vsekh roliakh, dazhe kroshechnykh”. Vedomosti, 14 November.

Kataev, Denis. 2017. “’Domogatel’stv so storony prodiusera ne bylo’: rezhisser Molochnikov rasskazal o ‘drake’ s Fedorom Bondarchukom”. TV Dozhd’, 16 November.

Sukmanov, Igor’. 2017. “Kinotavr-2017. All you need is love”. Iskusstvo kino 5/6.

Myths, 2017
Color, 89 minutes
Director:  Aleksandr Molochnikov
Screenplay: Aleksandr Molochnikov, Ol’ga Khenkina, Elena Banina
Music: Igor’ Vdovin
Cast: Yiannis Papadopoulos, Fedor Bondarchuk, Sergei Bezrukov, Ivan Urgant, Milosh Bikovich, Paulina Andreeva, Kseniia Rappoport, Viktoriia Isakova, Igor’ Vernik, Vadim Vernik, Maksim Sukhanov, Andrei Smoliakov, Irina Rozanova, Nadezhda Markina,
Producers: Ilya Stewart, Fedor Bondarchuk, Dmitrii Rudovskii, Murad Osmann, Iurii Kozyrez
Production: Art Pictures Studio and Hype Film, with  financial support of the Cinema Fund
Distributor: WDSSPR

Aleksandr Molochnikov: Myths (Mify, 2017)

reviewed by Mariëlle Wijermars© 2018

Updated: 2018