Issue 30 (2010)

Sergei Debizhev: The Golden Mean (Zolotoe sechenie, 2010)

reviewed by Sonia Troshina © 2010

Infinite wandering

There is no time.
There are only secret springs of coincidence.
Finding yourself,
You find the keys to you own heart
And you set off on an infinite journey.
“The Golden Mean”

In the summer of 2010 the film The Golden Mean finally arrived on the screens: “finally” because work on the film took no less than three years. During this time the film changed its working title “Season of Rains”, shooting at the exotic location of Cambodia, to Golden Mean – a concept closely connected in our consciousness with art, with the law of harmony, and with Leonardo Da Vinci. Moreover, it evokes parallels with some mystical phenomena.

zolotoeVarious cinema web-sites tend to define the genre of the film as “adventure” (some add “mystical” or even “historical”). Maybe this is true to a certain extent, especially when relying for this assessment on the plot, without going into details. There is a hero (Aleksei Serebriakov)—a young and successful representative of the world of show business, the world of limelight and glamour, the world from which he escapes in search of adventures, in an attempt to uncover the story of his own family. The plot is rather convoluted: there is a historical line reaching back to the Second World War and to a squadron in Neman, Normandy; there is all sort of mysticism—the discovered diary, the Masonic lodge, the lost statue of Buddha; and there are lethally dangerous tests which the hero has to pass in Cambodia (the jungle, adders, mine fields and so forth). There is also an antihero (Daniel Shigapov), who—in line with the conventions of the genre (assuming we are dealing with an adventure film) tries to hinder the hero in every possible way, even at the cost of his own life. There are helpers of the hero (Ksenia Rappoport, Natalia Dufraisse), who—on the contrary—assist him with his mission. There are chases and pursuits, shootings, struggle for survival; and there is the constant search for a way out of seemingly insoluble situations. But at the same time, the film contains numerous elements that move The Golden Mean from the category of adventure film into a different sphere. And here a lot depends on personal taste and predilections. So, for example, it is possible to detect elements of parable and melodrama; moreover, one might read the entire film as subtle, postmodernist steb. I shall refrain here from trying to define the genre, and justify my interpretation by quoting the director, who said that the film has no uniform genre, but that the genre varies from episode to episode like in a kaleidoscope (Mazurova).

zolotoeIn summary, I would call the film a “game with genres.” The concept of game, in my opinion, immediately answers many questions. The rather laid-back intonations of the actors become less important, as does the motivation for actions; the definitiveness of the ending is irrelevant (as a matter of fact, it does not matter whether the hero manages to overcome all the difficulties and carry out his task). All this, as well as the concept of the game itself, becomes more obvious when we place The Golden Mean in the context of Sergei Debizhev’s filmography and biography. It suffices to recall Two Captains 2 (Dva kapitana 2, 1991) for an inevitable association with the “historical”, “chronicle” inserts in the film. We are, of course, not talking about an alternative history of the 20th century as was the case for Two captains 2; here, the private history of the protagonist’s grandfather (Viktor Verzhbitskii) is “written into” the real history of Russia at the time of the war, but the mystical and absurdist beginning nevertheless offers a basis for an associative connection between the two films. The appearance in the film of the Petersburg avant-garde artist Sergei Bugaev (Africa), who is famous for his role in Sergei Solov’ev’s film ASSA (1987), is another hint at a certain level of irony pertinent to the notion of the game, mentioned above. A similar reminder is the song “Athanasius Nikitin Boogie” by Boris Grebenshchikov, written long before the completion of the film, which echoes in its lyrics several themes of the film’s plot.

I do not remember how it happened and which wind blew into my mouth
I went along Castaneda’s trail and ended up in the merchant navy
Where all the sailors wear skirts, and the cadets carry a knife in their mouth
And here we were loading in the port of Ulan-Bator
I rushed to the datsan, hoping to retreat there
But I ran into Lagerfeld, and turned around to find we’re on Oxford Street.

zolotoeOne should mention separately the “chronicle” episodes mentioned above, as they form some kind of “business card” for the director. It suffices to recall Two Captains 2, where newsreel footage was combined with enacted episodes that were shot in the style of old chronicles; or the film Complex of Diminished Responsibility (Kompleks nevmeniaemosti, 1993), consisting almost entirely of a newsreel (the main enacted episode here was a scene including a lecture about chrome where the role of the lecturer was performed by Sergei Kurekhin), where another, absurd reality was created through the voice-over narration. Moreover, there are lesser-known montage examples, such as The Golden Dream (Zolotoi son, 1988) and Red on Red (Krasnoe na krasnom, 1990). The newsreel stood at the cradle of each of them, but it would be erroneous to call these films simply chronicles or historical films. Here the chronicle forms part of a mosaic, of the paint on a canvas (by the way, Sergei Debizhev is a painter by training, something that is noticeable in all his films). In The Golden Mean, fictional and enacted episodes are harmoniously (an involuntary pun) interwoven, including enacted scenes that are stylized in the manner of the chronicle, as well as real chronicles and animation (graphics).

zolotoeIn all his films Debizhev pays special attention to the editing, and The Golden Mean is no exception. The film contains clips; as a matter of fact, it is entirely made in the style of dynamical clip-making. The amount of cuts is amazing. But most interesting for me is that—despite all these dynamics and despite the fact that each sequence lasts no more than a few seconds—there is no sense of fast-moving time, confusion, or chaos. Instead, two times collide: physical and metaphysical. One overlaps with the other and finally simply disappears. Time freezes, or is extended, when we get to Buddhist Cambodia or inside the ancient casino, which forms the portal to another dimension. From the collision with the dynamic montage stems the sensation that we look at a Cambodia with its eastern secrets and riddles with the same eyes as the hero, following his gaze: that of a European. The eyes of a person, who for a moment pulled himself out of his (and our) idle and vain world, of civilization, computers, cars, traffic jams, television screens, glossy magazines, etc. to go to a place where “there is no time, but only secret springs of chance”. The hero makes his journey not in a real and concrete geographical space, but inside himself.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Sonia Troshina
Moscow-St Petersburg

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Works Cited

Mazurova, Svetlana. “Ekstremal’nye s”emki,” Interview with Sergei Debizhev, Rossiiskaia gazeta 3 June 2010.

The Golden Mean, Russia, 2009
Col., 95 min.
Director and Scriptwriter Sergei Debizhev
Co-scriptwriter Konstantin Murzenko
Director of Photography Anton Drozdov
Production Design Eldar Karkhalev, Sergei Debizhev, Andrei Klimenko
Costume Design Maria Osipova
Soundtrack Viktor Sologub, Aleksei Karpov
Sound Aleksander Dudarev
Editing Mitiai Sliusarchuk, Leda Semenova
Cast: Aleksei Serebriakov, Kseniia Rappoport, Renata Litvinova, Nikolai Marton, Viktor Verzhbitskii, Mikhail Efremov, Arkadii Volgin, Sergei Bugaev (“Africa”)
General Producers Viacheslav Tel’nov, Sergei Fedotov
Producer Aleksei Tel’nov
Production of Saint Petersburg SDF (Studio of Documentary Film)
Distribution Argument Kino

Sergei Debizhev: The Golden Mean (Zolotoe sechenie, 2010)

reviewed by Sonia Troshina © 2010

Updated: 03 Oct 10