Issue 34 (2011)

Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev: I Love You (Ia tebia liubliu, 2011)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2011

I Love YouIn a 2009 manifesto titled “Naturalist Cinema” (“Natural’noe kino”) Aleksandr Rastorguev criticized current Russian documentary cinema, calling it a “trash factory” (“musornyi zavod” [“Natural’noe kino”]). According to Rastorguev, current feature length documentaries and television programs are ideologically loaded, state mouthpieces for the powers that fund an exclusive group of directors. Rastorguev calls for more truthful cinematic representations through stripped down “clean aesthetics” and a “total anthropology” of subject matter (“Natural’noe kino”). Despite his calls for more openness and truth in documentary film, many reviews do not even consider his latest film with Pavel Kostomarov, I Love You, a documentary, branding it as a fiction film.

I Love YouCasting for I Love You was extensive. The directors interviewed 1673 people, settling on fifty people to shoot their own material with handheld digital cameras. Rastorguev and Kostomarov gave their subjects specific topics and shooting assignments, as they wanted to capture various situations to fit into the film’s overall script. The film took two years to complete. I Love You presents a scattered story of three men, Sasha, Kuz’ia, and Vania, detailing brief moments of their everyday life and their relationships with women. The story is set into motion when the camera is first turned on, but only finds its main characters when they steal the camera from a police car. 

I Love YouThe two directors attempt to recede into the background by letting the actors shoot the scenes. Kostomarov is better known for his feature film camerawork, especially in Aleksei Uchitel’’s The Stroll (Progulka, 2003) and in Aleksei Popogrebskii’s How I Ended This Summer (Kak ia provel etim letom, 2010). The two films demonstrate opposite ends of the spectrum for the cinematographer. In Progulka, Kostomarov’s camera follows the hectic motions of life on the streets of St. Petersburg, whereas in How I Ended This Summer, he displays the ability to frame the changing natural landscape. It is ironic then that Kostomarov gave up the camera to amateur filmmakers and, along with Rastorguev, observed the scenes.  

Rastorguev’s previous films neatly document the dramatic minutiae of everyday life, rather than dramatizing it through cinematic means. His films, such as Mamochki (2001), detail the struggles of those living in the provinces, but instead of simply showing the destitute conditions of these areas, he often finds solace in the willingness and strength of those who endure personal trials. I Love You was shot in Rastorguev’s hometown of Rostov-on-Don, but unlike his previous films, I Love You has a decidedly urban feel to it. It explores both the private lives of its subjects at home and also the public urbanscape of Rostov-on-Don in police stations, parking garages, factories, clubs, and highways.

I Love YouI Love You begins with an unusual epigraph, an order from a police colonel of Rostov-on-Don that declares war against corruption: “…as part of the ongoing efforts to root out corruption and expose abuses of power, I hereby order all units under my command to take audio and video recordings of all activity related to investigations.” This statement, a microcosm of the film’s production, is the lone authorial voice in a film that lacks direct messengers. Meant to empower and protect those in the frame against the evils of the world, the camera at the same time incriminates those on screen. The use of police footage also recalls the legacy of film as state property. I Love You’s use of police surveillance immediately recalls Juris Podnieks’s influential documentary on youth culture Is it Easy to be Young? (Legko li byt’ molodym?, 1986), in which the Latvian filmmaker set out to document a rock music festival, but instead took footage that later became state evidence at a trial. Rastorguev and Kostomarov’s camera implicates its subjects at almost every step, not only catching the crime on tape toward the outset of the film, but also recording the behavior of those on screen. It is not surprising that several times during the shooting the camera is pointed away from its subjects or turned off during difficult moments.

I Love You is a demonstration of another documentary manifesto titled “Kinoproby” (“Kinoprobes”), published online by Rastorguev on in 2009. A Vertovian-esque manifesto for the digital age in both form and content, “Kinoprobes” features rules such as:

“Kinoprobes – This is the death of the author.”
“Kinoprobes – This is the fragmentation of the flow of structure and feelings.”
“Kinoprobes – This is the NONOBJECTIVE CAMERA – every frame is shot, not by the storyteller (usually by the director), but shot by the conscious hero, and by his will. (“Kinoproby”)

The manifesto calls for the distancing of the director, who can be substituted by the voices from the crowd. Montage is no longer through editing, but rather through the on/off button of the digital camera.

I Love YouThere is an intense focus on what the machine allows the user to do. The film was shot using a 1920 x 1080 full HD handheld camera, allowing subjects ease of movement without sacrificing quality. Like Dziga Vertov’s Chelovek s kinoaparatom (Man With the Movie Camera, 1929), I Love You is as much a celebration of the filming apparatus as it is its operator. Instead of Vertov’s hectic piston-pounding industrial atmosphere, however, Rastorguev’s and Kostomarov’s digital world has effortlessly and silently equipped the amateur, elevating him to the level of auteur and seemingly professional filmmaker.

I Love YouRastorguev and Kostomarov seem to be making the claim for stripping down their own prowess, as much as they are elevating their documentary subjects, who are equipped with a “third eye” (“tretii glaz” [“Kinoproby”]). Despite Rastorguev’s claim that this cinema eliminates the viewers’ “shameful peeping” (“stydlivogo podsmatrivaniia” [“Kinoproby”]), I Love You’s “third eye” clearly has the taste for pornography and voyeurism. The camera operating actors frequently recreate voyeuristic shots, with one subject stating, “you’ve never seen that in a movie?” Up-skirt shots, night-vision filtered sex tapes, and intimate moments comprise many of the scenes. These instances are balanced by the subjects’ beliefs and feelings on the subject of love and relationships, lengthy extrapolations that occur in kitchens, bedrooms, and cars. The film clearly plays with this balance between physical acts, feelings, and thoughts on love. The titular phrase, “I love you” is sincerely professed only once by anyone in the film. The professions of love the audience does hear, however, are largely in the form of obscenity from the three male actors. 

Despite the directors’ move to delegate shooting to the hands of actors, the sentimentality of the film is not constructed simply within the frame, but rather on the editing board. The directors take back control of their subjects, relegating them to their marionette roles as documentary subjects, as they are ultimately shaped by the film’s editing process: the seemingly random construction of shots is actually a comparison of different kinds of love. This is most apparent at the end of the film, where one of the few calm professions of love by a soldier to his pregnant, soon to be wife is immediately juxtaposed with scenes of obscenity and frustration from another character. At this point, the directors seem to be going against their manifesto, away from the sincerity of the actor-cameraman, and back in the direction of a cinema that constructs its own authorial view of reality.

Andrew Chapman
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Rastorguev, Aleksandr. “Kinoproby.” 14 Apr. 2009.

—. “Natural’noe kino: Manifest.” Seans 35/36.

I Love You, Russia, 2010
82 mins, color, Digi BETA
Director: Pavel Kostomarov and Alexander Rastorguev
Scriptwriter: Susanna Baranzhieva
Actors/Cameramen: Stanislav Cherkasov, Vladimir Kuz’menko, Ivan Miroshnichenko, Aleksandr Glotov, Tat’iana Kulish
Costumes: Daniil Kostinskii
Sound: Georgii Ermolenko
Editing: Dasha Danilova
Producers: Aleksandr Rodnianskii, Sergei Mel’kumov
Production: Kinokompaniia “Non-stop Prodakshn” with the support of the Cinema Fund

Pavel Kostomarov and Aleksandr Rastorguev: I Love You (Ia tebia liubliu, 2011)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2011

Updated: 05 Oct 11