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Roman Balaian: Bright is the Night (Noch' svetla) (2004)

reviewed by David Gillespie©2004

Is there a new Russian cinema? Balaianís latest film takes its title from a popular song about separated lovers, and the sadness that comes from the uncertainty of their ever meeting again. Bright is the Night is also about lovers who become separated, but there the similarity ends. What is more significant about the film, however, is its refusal to make any political or ideological statement, and, like Andrei Zviagintsevís recent award-winning The Return (2003) surely heralds a bright future for post-Soviet Russian cinema.

Balaianís film boasts a powerful performance from Irina Kupchenko, as Zinaida Antonovna, the director of a school for the deaf, dumb, and blind. Caught between her feelings of duty towards her vulnerable charges and her own loneliness and lack of personal fulfilment, Zinaida Antonovna refuses to allow others around her to enjoy emotional relationships, using her power to disrupt and destroy them, in particular the burgeoning and passionate affair between Aleksei, a younger doctor, and the precocious, not to say provocative, trainee Lika. She remains unaffected by the suicide of one inmate, hides the fact that she has a grown-up son, and pulls herself back from the brink of a potentially humiliating relationship with Aleksei. All the time she struggles to remain in control not only of the school and those for whom she has responsibility, but also herself.

        

This she succeeds in doing, although it is Alekseiís commitment to the school, and the considerable personal sacrifice that he makes, that offers the key moment in the film. His decision to stay with the young children who so obviously love him and depend on him shows the importance of remaining true to oneself and oneís ideals, even at the cost of personal happiness.

Balaianís film is handsomely shot throughout, with sunlight shining down on meadows, woods and river, and the humans enjoying a blissful relationship within this latter-day Eden. It is convincingly and compellingly acted, especially by the deaf, dumb, and blind inmates, although Kupchenko steals every scene she is in. Like Zviagintsevís film, the major themes are relationships and commitment, and what it means to love. Simple enough, but a shot in the arm for a beleaguered film industry still trying to shake off its past.

David Gillespie, University of Bath


Bright is the Night (Russia and Ukraine, 2004)

Color, 98 minutes

Director: Roman Balaian

Script: Rustam Ibragimbekov and Roman Balaian

Camera: Bogdan Verzhbitskii

Art Direction: Sergei Khotimskii

Composer: Vadim Khrapachev

Cast: Irina Kupchenko, Aleksei Panin, Andrei Kuzichev, Vladimir Gostiukhin, Olia Golitsa, Bogdan Khizniak

Producer: Vladimir Dostal'

Production: MAKDOS (Russia) and Iliuzion Films (Ukraine), with support from the Russian Ministry of Culture


Roman Balaian: Bright is the Night (Noch' svetla) (2004)

reviewed by David Gillespie©2004

29/09/04