Issue 66 (2019)

Aleksei Krasovskii: Holiday (Prazdnik, 2018)

reviewed by Olga N. Turysheva © 2019

Aleksei Krasovskii’s Holiday released on 31 December 2018 on YouTube deserves a close study. Obviously its release marked an important cultural event at the time, but it went unnoticed at first. This can be easily explained by the accusations that had been levelled against the film long before it appeared. Harsh criticism and protest (including pickets demanding that the film be banned, the St Petersburg Public Prosecution Office studying the script, and threats against Krasovskii himself, with the director being questioned at the investigation department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) did not only make the director give up the idea of getting a distribution license, but also obscured the artistic message of the film for the viewer.

prazdnikHoliday was mostly accused of two “offences,” namely a lack of correspondence between the genre and the topic, and a lack of an artistic concept. This review will focus on both points. According to the first accusation of a mismatch between genre and topic, the director was mocking tragic events of Russian history, since his New-Year comedy is set in a besieged Leningrad, and some of the characters who fell victims to the appalling events are not portrayed positively. More precisely, there is one victim, Mashenka, the guest of a privileged scientist and his family, where she has been invited by the scientist’s son to a New Year’s dinner. Unlike the Voskresensky family with a privileged lifestyle, Mashenka has to face the horrors of the siege. At a first sight, Mashenka’s story does not look well-suited for a comic context, and neither is her portrayal very sympathetic. On the other hand, the Voskresenskii family makes legitimate character type for a satirical portrayal, and their artistic image is based on the realities of the siege, about which Krasovskii speaks in some of his interviews with reference to documentary evidence (Sulim 2018).

prazdnikThe historian Konstantin L’vov substantiates the factual basis of Holiday in his article published in Iskusstvo Kino (L’vov 2019). To provide a rational interpretation of the film, it is worthwhile to dismiss all the accusations that the director falsifies history. The director does not laugh at the victims, but at those whose heart remained undisturbed in the face of mass starvation and death. For this reason, Krasovskii’s subject justifies his choice of genre. 

The other recurring charge levelled at Holiday concerns the comic exaggeration as the key stylistic feature of the film as contradicting reality. This was explained by the absence of directorial concept or its weakness. For instance, Anton Dolin (2018) compared the film with a read-through of a play being prepared for production.

prazdnikHowever, I would like to suggest that the film’s deliberate conventionality is an intentional quality and part of the director’s concept. This may help explain why the image of Mashenka, a true victim of the siege, is void of tragic content, why she is portrayed as mechanical and as heartless as the Voskresensky family. The film does not speak about the siege withering her heart or about her inability to stand up to the need of self-sacrifice and ordeal in the context of the terrible events. The function of the mechanical in her portrayal is different, first of all because Krasovskii’s film is not psychological, it does not suggest a psychological depiction of the transformation a person undergoes in terrible times. The aesthetics of the film are akin to the aesthetics of Bert Brecht’s epic theater, with the destruction of the illusion of authenticity, the absence of mimetic depiction and a taboo on catharsis. By means deliberately artificial acting, Holiday produces the Brechtian effect of alienation (Verfremdung), not empathy. Consequently, the only victim of the siege in the film is portrayed mechanically, like a puppet: the film deliberately estranges us from her tragedy to achieve another receptive effect. The failure to detect this technique led many critics to accuse the director of cynicism and insult of the memory of the war.

prazdnikThe film’s ending is the most vivid reflection of the aesthetics of alienation. Vitalii, a deserter who passes himself off as a war hero (played by Tribuntsev), blackmails the Voskresenskii family and goes to their grandmother’s room in order to do what, according to him, the family should have done a long time ago. The characters’ strained faces make it clear that he is going to kill the old lady. A shot can be heard, which is, however, followed by a knock with which the grandmother would express her annoyance. Alena Babenko, the actress playing the grandmother, breathes a sigh of relief and addresses the camera, exclaiming: “Happy New Year!”. She also winks to the viewer, and this is accompanied by a special sound that resembles a jingle. This kind of ending deliberately destroys the illusion of authenticity. I will further examine the artistic semantics of this technique in Krasovskii’s work.

The critic Andrei Arkhangelskii (2019) considers Holiday “an unconscious rebellion […] of the film industry” against the forming a “patriotic standard” of the portrayal of the war in Russian cinema. For Arkhangelskii, such a “patriotic standard” most probably means the combination of a heroic tone, the effect of authenticity, and the ability of a film to inspire patriotic feelings in the viewer. I believe that it is this “standard” that Krasovskii opposes. Contrary to Arkhangelskii’s argument, his work deliberately and consciously destroys the stylistics of authenticity by making the viewer think about the reasons why Holiday depicts an episode of life during the war in this and no other way (i.e. as in popular war films).

prazdnikHowever, the viewer is not only expected to reflect on the form. It is important to remember that, according to Brecht, the destruction of empathy automatically makes the viewer think about the present reality, but not about the characters’ fates. This is what Krasovskii intends to do, as is proven by the final winking of Babenko’s character. It is implied that heartlessness is not exclusively a quality of the Voskresenskii family. In accordance with what their last name suggests (voskresen’e meaning resurrection), they will rise from the dead and reappear in numerous present-day characters. It is no chance that they are portrayed as immortal in the film: following the shot, the elderly lady lets her family know that she is annoyed with something, and the Voskresenskiis themselves survive another German airstrike. Is it this knowledge of the Voskresenskiis’ immortality that the winking actress is trying to share with the viewer, breaking the fourth wall?

Finally, what is the meaning of Holiday? It is definitely not an attempt to insult the memory of the tragic events of the siege, but to get rid of a stereotype and make the viewer reflect both on the film’s unordinary form and timeless social issues. In this respect, Holidayaims to help viewers form their own independent opinion of modern times and modern art. In this connection, I suggest a hypothesis: that Holidaywas meant to respond to an audience demand and a dissatisfaction with the poetics of mainstream war films.  This appears to have laid the foundations for the comic manner used to overcome the illusion of authenticity. This is supported the fact that the director refused to apply for a distribution license and shared it on his YouTube channel, appealing to viewers’ goodwill. As we know, Krasovskii’s hopes have been fulfilled, and thanks to audience support, he has been able to recoup his investments.

Olga N. Turysheva
Yeltsin Ural Federal University (Yekaterinburg)

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Works Cited

Arkhangelskii, Andrei. 2019. “Karnaval lzhi. Fil'm ‘Prazdnik’ kak bunt protiv patrioticheskogo standarta.” Republic (7 January).

Dolin, Anton. 2018. “Na YouTube vykhodit ‘Prazdnik’—komediia pro Novyi god v blokadnom Leningrade.” Meduza 31 December.

L‘vov, Konstantin. 2019. “Mnogo stuka i nichego.” Iskusstvo kino 3–4: 109–114.

Sulim, Sasha. 2018. “Ia vse vydumal! I nadeius', chto imeiu na eto pravo v nashei strane.” Meduza 15 October.

 


Holiday, Russia, 2018
Color, 73 minutes
Director and Scriptwriter: Aleksei Krasovskii
DoP: Sergei Astakhov
Composer: Ruslan Lepatov
Production Design: Evdokiia Zamakhina
Cast: Ian Tsapnik, Alena Babenko, Pavel Tabakov, Anfisa Chernykh, Timofei Tribuntsev, Anastasiia Chistiakova
Producers: Aleksei Krasovski, Iuliia Krishtofovich

Aleksei Krasovskii: Holiday (Prazdnik, 2018)

reviewed by Olga N. Turysheva © 2019

Updated: 2019