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Aleksandr Proshkin: Trio (Trio) (2003)

reviewed by Vladimir Strukov©2004

Director Aleksandr Proshkin's reputation rests on his television mini-series dealing with great figures (biopics) in Russian culture and science (Mikhailo Lomonosov, 1985; Nikolai Vavilov, 1991) and films that examine pivotal moments in Russian history―the execution of Beriia, bringing to a close the Stalinist era in The Cold Summer of 1953 (1987) and most recently his screen adaptation of Aleksandr Pushkin's famous account of Pugachev's revolt in the 18th century against Catherine the Great (The Captain's Daughter, 1999). In his latest film, Trio, which is set in contemporary Russia, Proshkin takes on a more restrained exploration of intricate human relations.

The film was scripted by Aleksandr Mindadze, based on a short story by Vladimir Pershanin, "Hunt on Asphalt." It develops on two narrative levels. On the first level, it evolves as a police procedural about three cops―Nikolai (Andrei Panin), Aleksei (Mikhail Porechenkov), and Marina (Maria Zvonareva, in her debut)―who attempt to stop a gang of highway robbers killing long haul drivers and burning their trucks. The trio works undercover, with the men pretending to be truck drivers and the woman a roadside prostitute. They attract the attention of criminals by deliberately leaking information that their truck is loaded with expensive office equipment. In fact, the unsuspecting audience only learns that this is a set up after the criminals attack the drivers and are arrested. The trio suddenly reveals its true identity: a major, a captain and a sergeant of the Russian militia.

The second narrative level emerges even more gradually. At the beginning of the film a professional hierarchy dominates over personal relationships among the trio. As they slowly begin to call each other by their first names and to switch from the formal vy to a friendlier ty, the film unfolds as a drama. The psychological insights provided in a series of episodes serves as this second level of the narrative: all three characters have dual identities. Marina is a cop who feels comfortable in her role as a roadside prostitute, Aleksei is an amateur opera singer, and Nikolai is a dispassionate husband with a credulous wife. This confusion of identities is amplified when the trio meets its double, another group of cops disguised as tourists and enmeshed in a similarly tangled series of personal relationships.

The double narrative corresponds to the two kinds of space demarcated in the film. The first is the world inside the cabin of the truck, which is used by the characters as a place to relax and which eventually brings them closer to each other; the second is the outside world, where the trio has to contend with the hurdles of their profession and dilemmas of their personal lives. This is the world of the present: the broiling summer steppes of the Kalmyk region, where the characters seem to achieve freedom and harmony, where the urban landscape of Siberian industrial cities is dominated by the gigantic chimneys of factories and polluted by the personal memories of the heroes. Their pasts, however, keep entering fortuitously into their lives and these moments constitute part of the narrative's enigma. But the specificity of these pasts is never revealed in the film and each of the characters is forced to transport the cargo of memories.

The road itself provides the bonding agent in this travelogue for the two narrative levels and the two types of spaces, as well as for the otherwise disconnected episodes assembled in the film. The road is a recurring image in Russian literature and art, frequently symbolizing a character's quest for identity (most famously in Nikolai Gogol's novel, Dead Souls; and in recent Russian films such as Petr Buslov's Bimmer, 2003 and Boris Khlebnikov's and Aleksei Popogrebskii's Koktebel, 2003). The road cuts equally through the endless Russian steppes and through the hearts of Nikolai, Aleksei, and Marina. As the camera captures the precisely straight line of the highway, stretching to eternity and promising harmony and escape, the lives of the trio take a strange turn. In the cabin of their truck, which obviously encapsulates their inner desires, the trio begins to explore the complexities of their respective identities. As one of the men drives and the other shares his time with Marina, all of them ponder the same dilemma: to keep up appearances or to act according to the passions of their hearts.

The world outside tempts the trio with its empyrean freedom; it evokes their nomadic dispositions and existential pursuit of the self. The heat of the summer steppes points to the sensual exhilaration that forms the bond among the archetypically priapic Aleksei, the stoic Nikolai, and the candid Marina. Just as they fail to solve the murders of the long haul drivers, however, the trio also fails to acknowledge themselves and the feeling of love they share.

Short on action, the narrative in this film enacts a dual tension that gravitates between the enchantment of each individual moment and the forward drive of the unfolding drama. The film also possesses the strong hermeneutic energy of a conspiracy thriller and of a romance whose outcome is unclear.

The film is rich in slow-paced episodes; the atmosphere of indolence and contemplation is enhanced by moderate music and prevalence of long shots over close-ups. The camera tends to conceal rather than reveal certain psychological intricacies, and at the end of the film it distances the viewer from the trio, concealing what goes on in the cabin of the truck, by changing the focal point: the vehicle is shown from far away, disappearing into nowhere. The trio's final destination remains obscure and so does the ending of the story: the voice-over suggests a possible finale but at the same time encourages the viewer to meditate rather than simply to acknowledge the end of the film.

Trio (Russia, 2003), 102 min., Color

Production: Mosfilm, Studio Telefilm, Central Partnership

Screenplay: Aleksandr Mindadze

Camera: Sergei Astakhov

Composer: Vladimir Martynov

Cast: Andrei Panin, Mikhail Porochenkov, Mariia Zvonareva


Aleksandr Proshkin: Trio (Trio) (2003)

reviewed by Vladimir Strukov ©2004

8/04/04