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Mikhail Brashinskii: Black Ice (Gololed) (2003)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers 2003

If Aleksandr Sokurov presented the longest tracking shot in the history of a cinema with his film Russian Ark, Mikhail Brashinskii's debut film Black Ice transforms Sokurov's record into the opposite. His 70-minute film contains no less than 1011 cuts, when the average for a 90-minute picture constitutes 600 cuts.

Such analytical calculation of his own montage would probably be expected from a director, who previously worked as a film-critic. But this statistical evidence remains the only technical information in the press-release. Overall, Black Ice is very intelligent film, which investigates different aspects that hint at the search for a new cinema.

Black Ice is far from examining the weather conditions in Moscow, but the emotional condition of contemporary Muscovites. Somewhat, the film is about the freezing of the feeling of love. The plot is not developed; in the film we see a man (he) and a woman (she) who, in fact, are neither connected nor familiar with each other; they casually met in hospital. "She" (Viktoria Tolstoganova) is a lawyer; she has left the husband, and sees another man, while her former husband (Egor Pazenko) still loves her. She does not see that she is in danger in connection with her plan to use a tape with illegally made recordings as compromising evidence in court. Or rather she appreciates this danger, but has not yet decided what to do, seeing neither the possible consequences, nor the significance of her own actions. Besides, she fails to realize the constancy of the love of her former husband. "He" (Il'ia Shakunov, an actor of the Petersburg TYuZ) is a gay translator who, after the random meeting with her, is pursued by her image which frequently pops up in front of him. As a consequence, his relationship with a young boy no longer satisfies him. Both he and she lose sight of the meaning of life, because of their own inability to see others and to see love, as perception relies on proximity instead of distance. In film there are numerous missed chances and possibilities, because people have lost the overall view and the capacity to look at things from a distance.

The theme of vision and perception is emphasized in the film. Not only do the characters experience difficulties with vision (several layers of contact lenses, the use of an acid instead of a cleanser for lenses), but neither the viewer is allowed an overall perspective on the events. Brashinskii uses as a number of short close-ups, which are followed by a few wide angle shots, an approach which creates some degree of irritation for the spectator. The convulsive and jerky movements of the camera provoke a certain dizziness in the spectator, and the characters are even sick from the proximity of objects. The use of close-ups denies the possibilities of a surveying view and coincides with the director's desire not to tell a story.

Neither He nor She are able to see from a distance. The absence of the wide angle hints at the fixation of the gaze on certain objects, as well as on the focus of the characters on themselves. In a world where everyone is in a hurry, where nobody looks after others, where everybody is interested only in their own desires and interests, human relations freeze. Sometimes the film reminds of Iankovskii's Moving (also produced by Elena Iatsuro) where the main hero also is incapable to form a long-term relation, and is rushes around the city. The figure of Viktoria Tolstoganova, who never shows any emotional expression, reminds somewhat of the work of Ingeborga Dapkunaite in Roman Prygunov's film Solitude of the Blood. Neither of these films are interested in the psychological motives or the reasons of action. Though these are completely different films, it seems that we can note here a new tendency in contemporary cinema, which Brashinskii has tapped on in the film: the speed of city life; the absence of a concern for others (not accidentally are we reminded in the press-release of the numerous acts of terrorism in Moscow in recent years); and finally the absence of love and, as a result, the destruction of humanity. In this sense Black Ice belongs to a 'post-human' cinema. The speed of contemporary life leads to a loss of the capacity to reflect. Whereas this theme is not itself new in art, the way in which Brashinskii transfers this condition onto the screen reflects aesthetically that precipice on which his main heroes stand, without appreciating their predicament.

Brashinskii uses devices of world cinema of the 1990s, without ever duplicating their functions. Whereas we perceive the camera movement as in the Danish Dogma films, this film is obviously not made as a documentary, but shot in stylized and carefully arranged sets (the designer was Vladimir Kartashov, who died in the glacier slide in Ossetia). The camera returns to the hospital three times, but not at all to repeat a scene from a different point of view, as in Tarantino's Jackie Brown, or to change the course of the action, as in Tykwer's Run Lola, Run. The waiting room in the hospital occurs for the first time when She leaves the hospital; we follow her destiny. The second time He leaves, and we follow him, already after the meeting with her. Finally we return to the hospital at the end of the film when her ex-husband is vainly waiting for her. Any path that depends on the satisfaction of egoistic desires leads to death.

The damaged vision of the characters is superbly reflected in the work of the cameraman (Oleg Dobronravov) and in the montage (Brashinskii and Ivan Lebedev), creating the sensations of dizziness and speed. But the speed of movements never hinders the spectator to follow the action and identify after having viewed the film and thought about it (for which we have no time during film) the consequences of contemporary life, which destroys love, both erotic and Platonic. This is what Brashinskii manes when he says he would like to make a porno-film.

 


Mikhail Brashinskii: Black Ice (Gololed) (2003)

reviewed by Birgit Beumers 2003

15/02/03