Issue 71 (2021)

Vladimir Kozlov: Whatever We Want (Kak my zakhotim, 2018)

reviewed by Brian Kilgour © 2021

kak zakhotim The images are disturbing yet horribly familiar: police officers responding to words with violence, a young woman seen as a sexual commodity by a so-called artist. Vladimir Kozlov’s Whatever We Want addresses themes, often bluntly, that have dominated the news cycles of both Russia and the United States for the last several years. In the film, students Pasha and Katya attend a punk rock concert in a Moscow club. The police shut down the concert for unclear reasons; while Pasha is inside searching for a lost backpack, Katya films a police officer and asks why the concert was shut down. When Pasha returns to see the police officer grabbing Katya and wrestling her phone away, he hits the officer with a skateboard and they run off. The next morning, his phone rings and the police demand 300,000 rubles by the end of the day. Afraid of additional police retaliation, Pasha refuses to leave his apartment, leaving the task of finding enough money to Katya.

kak zakhotimKozlov’s film is quite literally an unflinching look at the impact of Russia’s police state on the lives of a typical young couple: the film features minimal cutting and allows scenes to play out in real time. This is most often successful when Whatever We Want centers on its lead, Katya, played by Ekaterina Obraztsova. She portrays Katya with a resolve that gradually frays over the course of film, yet never gives out. The film’s middle act is structured by a series of conversations divided by long takes of Katya walking through Moscow; these quiet interludes allow the viewer to identify with Katya and consider the impact of the previous scene on her overall situation. It is in these moments of reflection that the film most closely approaches horror (one of the genres listed for it on IMDb and Kinopoisk).

kak zakhotim As a result of the film’s limited editing, conversations often place one character in the foreground and the other in the background, ideal for more monologic scenes. When Katya speaks with the police officer, he is a faceless representative of the police state, cursing at Katya as his figure slowly obscures her body. Later, a homeless man approaches Pasha and Katya in a park and names them the future saviors of Russia from foreign influence and pedophiles; this monologue is foregrounded by Pasha and Katya struggling to hold back laughter, as they frame Putin’s face on the man’s shirt. At the same time, this documentary-style cinematography renders dialogue theatrical, at best. In an early scene at the bar with the punk rock band, the club owner asks if the band will curse Putin, to which the band’s drummer says he doesn’t care at all about Putin. “That’s the problem,” responds the owner pedantically. The film is filled with similarly overt philosophical discussions that clash with the documentary style of the cinematography. In addition to the aforementioned scenes with the homeless man and band, Katya meets a friend for help, who has spent his extra money on marijuana. He is the source of the film’s title, telling Katya to not worry because everything is predetermined and everything will be “the way we want it.”

kak zakhotimWhatever We Want is not content with its quiet moments of anxiety and tension; as Katya desperately looks for money, shock value begins to dominate the plot. One of Katya’s friends suggests going to an artist, insisting that it isn’t about pornography. Katya initially turns down this opportunity to raise money, but after a long day she dials the number. When she arrives, the artist presents Katya with a raw chicken and shows her blurry photos on his phone, allowing the viewer to piece together what her task would be; she runs away, horrified. Many of the film’s injections of shock seem aimed at criticizing the inactivity of Russia’s youth. Pasha and Katya stumble across a man and woman having sex in a corridor in the club, where they are confronted by a man claiming that the whole world has lost its mind. The artist, perhaps instead of focusing on politically relevant art, attempts to create art out of the purely horrific. Finally, Katya and Pasha, confronted by a homeless man embodying the hateful rhetoric of Russia’s right-wing, say that they don’t want to save anyone.

kak zakhotimWhatever We Want’s philosophizing and blatant attempts to shock detract from the successful and anxiety-inducing portrayal of Katya’s struggle to find enough money for Pasha. The film’s finale—a fifteen-minute torture scene at the hands of the police—encapsulates the downsides of the film’s lack of editing. Katya is bound with duct tape over the course of nearly four minutes of screen time in a jarring juxtaposition of Katya’s screaming for help and a fake struggle bordering on unwatchable. The film ends with Pasha leaping off the balcony to commit suicide and the police fleeing the scene. Rather than serving as a chilling portrayal of the reality of the police state, the film’s earlier emphasis on apathy leads one to wonder if Pasha’s fate is a final critique of Russia’s youth, fleeing instead of standing to fight the evils of Putin’s regime.

The foundational idea of Whatever We Want is elegant and excellent: it takes an ordinary, relatable couple and places them in an extraordinary situation that is reflective of historical reality. The documentary-style cinematography, use of only diegetic sound, and shallow focus all contribute to the film’s tension by connecting the viewer’s experience with that of the main character. While this is a solid basis for a slow-burning thriller that highlights the evils of the police state, Whatever We Want is thrown off course when it adds unnecessary scenes rife with sexual violence against its protagonists and blunt philosophizing about the current state of Russia. In the end, the film forgets that its simple concept speaks for itself and is, of its own accord, horror-inducing.

Brian Kilgour,
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Whatever We Want,Russia, 2019
Color, 84 minutes
Director: Vladimir Kozlov
Script: Vladimir Kozlov
Producer: Evgenii Bychkov, Vladimir Kozlov
Cinematographer: Anton Chereshnev
Editing: Anton Koryakin
Cast: Ekaterina Obraztsova, Aleksei Kokorin
Production: Platzkart Productions
Premiere (RF) 6 August 2019, Okno v Evropu

Vladimir Kozlov: Whatever We Want (Kak my zakhotim, 2018)

reviewed by Brian Kilgour © 2021

Updated: 2021