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Bakhtier Khudoinazarov: Chic - The Suit (Shik) (2002)

reviewed by Dawn Seckler ©2003

Director Bakhtier Khudoinazarov (born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 1965) made his first feature length film, Bro (Bratan), in 1991, the same year the Soviet Union collapsed. His latest release The Suit (Shik, 2002), which received the Grand Prix award at the Open Russian Film Festival (Kinotavr) in Sochi, Russia, is a coy buddy film about three teenage friends and their quest to become 'chic' men. Their knowledge of haute couture comes from the impressive storefronts that line the shore of the resort town across the harbour from where they live. This inviting post-Soviet capitalist landscape beacons wealthy cruise ship travellers and butts up against a very different post-Soviet landscape: the mountainous terrain where the protagonists grew up, where their families struggle to make ends meet, and where reality is cold and harsh. Like the small commuter boats that ferry the boys back and forth between opposite shores (between the lands of rich and poor), the boys themselves glide across these boundaries with ease.

The border between adolescence and adulthood, however, is less easily traversed. The boys stand in opposition to all of the film’s adult male characters. The father of Geka, one of the three protagonists, complains of his son’s lackadaisical work ethic and angrily screams that his son has chosen Pepsi. The accusation places Geka (and by extension his buddies) in the global Generation X. In opposition to his ostensibly materialistic son, the father proudly announces his beverage of choice—kefir. And, indeed, the dairy reference has significance: the generation of the protagonists’ fathers, the last generation of Soviet men, is portrayed as a bunch of milksops who lack precisely the masculine attributes the boys hope to acquire. One is cuckolded by his younger, beautiful wife, who flaunts her extramarital affairs; another, an effeminate dressmaker, twice cowardly runs away from his family. In addition to their wimpy fathers, the other adult men depicted in the film—variations of the "New Russian" stereotype—also lack admirable masculine qualities. These men compensate for their deficiencies with yachts, fancy cars, and extreme machismo. With no exemplary men to emulate, the ideal of manhood is displaced in a Gucci suit.

Despite the association of the boys with foreign products (Pepsi and Gucci), their drive cannot be characterized correctly as commodity fetishism. Significantly, money ultimately proves unnecessary (they steal the suit) and, at least for the three protagonists, the suit does not function as a simple status symbol. It is better compared to a Proppian magical object in fairy tales: when adorned, the boy miraculously transforms into a man. This external makeover provides each of the heroes with a surge of confidence, as each boldly walks into previously inaccessible situations. Unlike the happily-ever-after promise of fairy tales, however, Khudoinazarov’s heroes’ brief forays into the "adult world" only bring them closer to disappointment, disillusion, and death. The suit, as a transformative object, fails.

Structurally, the film consists of two parts. In the first part the three protagonists do everything from washing cars to robbing trains together, and their collective singular goal is to get the suit. In the second half of the film—after they have obtained it—the trio splits up: the character who wears the suit sets out on his individual quest leaving his two friends temporarily behind. Although their friendship never weakens, each, when wearing the suit, acts separately, and to invoke a variation of the old saying: united they stand, divided they fall. The archetypal maturation narrative that links the assertion of adulthood with the assertion of independence does not hold up here. Khudoinazarov signals the protagonists’ breakdowns in their attempts to take action individually via mise-en-scène. Their personal dilemmas are represented visually—the mountainous terrain symbolizes Shtyr'’s inability to help his suffering mother; Geka’s continued placement in cramped spaces signals his and his father’s miserable relationship; and, water signifies Nemoi’s virginity and innocence, which he tries to overcome in the course of the film. In both the first and second parts of the film each of the boys is recycled into their respective spaces suggesting that their external transformation, their ability to move between the economically thriving and economically depressed poles of their environment, and their attempts to face the world alone do not suffice to resolve their predicaments. Camaraderie, the dominant theme of the buddy film genre, stands out as the boys’ best option for survival.


CREDITS

Russia, Germany, France, Italy, and Ukraine 2002. 

92 min. Color.

Directed: Bakhtier Khudoinazarov | Written: Oleg Antonov  | Camera: Vladimir Klemov  | Art Director: Aleksandr Shchrikhin  | Music: Daler Nazarov 

Cast: Aleksandr Iatsenko, Artur Povolotskii, Ivan Kokorin, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Nikolai Fomenko, and Andrei Panin

Producers: Ruben Dishdishian and Bakhtier Khudoinazarov


Bakhtier Khudoinazarov: Chic - The Suit (Shik) (2002)

reviewed by Dawn Seckler ©2003

13/10/03