Issue 70 (2020)

Dmitrii Meskhiev: Two Tickets Home (Dva bileta domoi, 2018)

reviewed by Sergey Dobrynin © 2020

2 bileta domoi“All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun,” as Jean-Luc Godard supposedly said. But is that really enough? This film, directed by Dmitrii Meskhiev and co-written, co-produced by and starring Sergei Garmash, has a girl and a gun, but mixes too many genres— melodrama, social drama, action and road movie—to gel into a coherent whole. Let us begin with a synopsis. Liuba Vasnetsova (Maria Skuratova) is a boyish-looking 18-year-old girl, who has been brought up in a provincial orphanage cum boarding school. She believes her father died in a fire, and she dreams of going to St Petersburg to become a flight attendant. She is unceremoniously dumped by her sleazy boyfriend Artem (Evgenii Tkachuk) when he learns that she will not be able to sell her new one-room apartment provided by the state for five years. She is courted by her schoolmate Sergei “Shilo” (Kamil’ Khardin), who teaches her to fire a handgun and reveals to her the true story of her parents. Her father is alive and doing time in a neighboring town for killing her mother 15 years ago. Upon graduation, Liuba steals Sergei’s gun and boards a train to find—and kill—her father, Nikolai Vasnetsov (the ubiquitous Sergei Garmash). It is not quite clear how she intends to do this in a jail, but it turns out that Vasnetsov is up for release. Liuba follows him everywhere and even offers to share her hotel room, but cannot bring herself to do the deed. Vasnetsov is gruff and ragged-looking—what after fifteen years in prison—and tries to shake off the pesky gamine. On the train back to their hometown of Kotorsk, she finally reveals her identity and shoots him. However, she is immediately filled with remorse and brings him to the nearest hospital, where the night nurse (Irina Rozanova) operates on his wound, calls the police but lets the pair escape. On the road again, Vasnetsov tells Liuba the circumstances of her mother’s death: that fateful night fifteen years ago, he had to leave home, but returned early and found his wife with another man. He doesn’t remember what happened then. He may not have been the murderer, and Liuba may not even be his daughter. She tells him to go away. Vasnetsov is seen to hitch a ride in a van, but miraculously comes back when Liuba is attacked by two hoodlums. Upon return to Kotorsk, father and daughter say their goodbyes. But Liuba, who is met by Sergei, is suddenly overwhelmed with daughterly feelings and cries “Papa!” They hug and, presumably, the family is reunited.

2 bileta domoiStories of errant but redeemable fathers have become a staple—almost a subgenre—in post-Soviet cinema, from The Thief (Vor, 1997, dir. Pavel Chukhrai) to Papa (2004, dir. Vladimir Mashkov) to How Viktor the Garlic Took Alexei the Stud to the Nursing Home (Kak Vit’ka Chesnok vez Lekhu Shtyrya v dom invalidov, 2017, dir. Aleksandr Khant). Incidentally, the latter film also featured Evgenii Tkachuk. On the one hand, this trend reflects the reality of modern Russia with its high divorce rate and men often succumbing to alcoholism and crime. On the other, it provides the filmmakers with an opportunity to make a melodrama, which has always been a popular genre with Soviet and Russian audiences. Trying to find the middle ground between a social drama and a feel-good movie, generously spiced with plenty of action, Two Tickets Home fails on both accounts. It flopped miserably in its theatrical release—just 8,045 viewers in all of Russia!—though it had very high ratings on film-viewing websites. This discrepancy may be explained if we assume that it was originally intended by co-writers Sergei Garmash and Maria Oshmianskaia as a TV mini-series, eventually blown up to theatrical format.

2 bileta domoiThe film fails as a social drama, because the background is very sketchy and generic. It could have been an insight into present-day Russia, but contents itself with angelic children’s home educators (Irina Rakhmanova and Natalia Surkova) and right and proper police guards. It may be good that the filmmakers have stayed away from chernukha. Personally, I appreciated the humor when the driver who gives a lift to Liuba turns out to be not a maniac but a normal person, as an antidote to the films of Aleksei Balabanov. However, the provincial Russia as portrayed here looks overall abstract and sterile. I had the same problem with Andrei Zviagintsev’s The Return (Vozvrashchenie, 2003), another story of an estranged father. But that film, at least, had psychological and even metaphysical depth. What seems utterly false here is the syrupy-sweet happy ending which grounds the film firmly in the Russian TV realm.

2 bileta domoiThe biggest asset of Two Tickets Home is the presence of Sergei Garmash, who is always good as an actor, with his rugged face and lopsided grin—although, again, he is not too believable as someone who has spent 15 years behind bars. Spitting on the ground regularly and not knowing how to use a smartphone are not sufficient indications that you have been isolated from society for many years. We learn early on that he has a heart of gold when he passes on the money collected for him in the obshchak (common fund for prisoners stashed by their friends at large) to the wife of a fellow prisoner. It is a highly unlikely occurrence. The filmmakers clearly love Léon (The Professional, 1994, Luc Besson), since Maria Skuratova bears an uncanny resemblance to young Natalie Portman, and many scenes and situations are reminiscent of that film. All said, Two Tickets Home is an enjoyable genre film, as long as you don’t take it as a representation of the reality of Russia today. And, the film has an alternative title, Predannye, which may mean two different things: “The Betrayed” or “The Devoted.” Choose the meaning you like.

Sergey Dobrynin

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Two Tickets Home, Russia, 2018
Color, 86 mins.
Director: Dmitrii Meskhiev
Screenplay: Sergei Garmash, Dmitrii Meskhiev, Maria Oshmianskaia
Cinematography: Vladimir Bashta
Production Design: Dmitrii Malich-Kon’kov
Cast: Maria Skuratova, Sergei Garmash, Evgenii Tkachuk, Kamil’ Khardin, Irina Rozanova, Irina Rakhmanova. Natalia Surkova.
Producers: Sergei Garmash, Anton Zlatopol’skii, Dmitrii Meskhiev
Production: KinoDelo, with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the RF, and Rossiya-1 Channel

Dmitrii Meskhiev: Two Tickets Home (Dva bileta domoi, 2018)

reviewed by Sergey Dobrynin © 2020

Updated: 2020