Issue 34 (2011)

Ekaterina Grokhovskaia:  Devil’s Flower (Tsvetok D’iavola, 2010)

reviewed by Emily Hillhouse © 2011

devilflowerIn the months before its release, fans anticipated that Katia Grokhovskaia’s Devil’s Flower would be the Russian answer to the Twilight saga. Looking at the two films’ promotional materials, which are almost identical, it is clear that Russian publicists hoped to capitalize on the enormous success of the American blockbuster. In reality, production for Devil’s Flower began well before the teen vampire epic, but because of various set-backs was not completed until 2010. However, comparisons are not entirely unwarranted; there are certainly similarities between the two enterprises. Like Twilight, Grokhovskaia’s film centers around a young woman swept into a supernatural world and forced to choose between an ordinary boy and an otherworldly lover. However, aside from some additional aesthetic similarities and a certain amount of wooden acting, the likeness ends there. Despite its beautiful young cast, moody cinematography and alternative rock soundtrack, Devil’s Flower did not attain box office success and was widely panned by critics and audiences alike.

The film tells the story of Polina, a college student with a 1970s sense of style and ethereal good looks. Polina is suffering from nightmares in which she stands before the gates of a dark castle confronting a huge glowing red flower. Wearing a white medieval gown and a look of faint consternation, Polina is drawn into the heart of the blossom by feathery tendrils.

devilflowerDisturbed by this dream, she contacts her friend, Nastia. Fortuitously, Nastia has a strong interest in the occult and lives in an appropriately sinister and isolated cabin. Upon hearing about the strange dream, Nastia goes into a trance and discovers that there is a useful book located in a secret archive of the city library. This archive, full of unlabeled and seemingly un-catalogued books, might be the scariest part of the whole movie. Luckily Nastia was guided by otherworldly forces to a book with the image of the devil’s flower on its spine.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, some of Polina’s more mainstream friends are partying with the local polo team. Unsettled by her trip to the library, and haunted by the uneasy feeling that she is being watched, Polina decides to attend the party. There she meets chisel-jawed star of the polo team, Sasha. The excruciating nature of their interactions must be seen to be believed. Theirs is a relationship made up of few words, and each one is delivered with an astonishing paucity of feeling. Whatever the case, Polina and Sasha soon find themselves galloping on horses through lush fields and exchanging long glances in slow-motion.

Back in her sylvan retreat, Nastia has made progress with the mysterious book. She has translated a message from Latin, revealing that to him who tastes the flower, “the Forbidden Gates will be unlocked and he shall be embraced by the Abyss of Eternity.” With that cleared up, she further discovers that six pages of the book are blank. However, when she accidentally bleeds on one of the pages, an image appears.

devilflowerAt the same time, Polina has another dream. Once again she stands before the castle gates. But this time she is joined by a dark horseman. He offers her his hand and she is about to take it when there is a shift in the large glowing red flower. When she hesitates, the horseman rides into the flower alone.
The next day, Polina and Sasha go for a romantic walk in the woods. Their awkward banter soon dries up and they find themselves kissing and groping on the forest floor. Over Sasha’s shoulder, Polina sees the dark horseman of her dream emerge from some smoke. Disturbed, she runs away from a confused and annoyed Sasha. At home she strips off all of her clothing and breathes heavily in front of her full length mirror.

That evening, Polina and Nastia meet up to discover that the most recent page to fill-in reveals an image of Polina and the dark horseman before the flower, standing just as they had in the dream. For unclear reasons, Nastia concludes that this means that the horseman will lead them to secret knowledge. As Polina departs into a heavy rainstorm, another page of the book reveals itself. This time it is an image of Polina’s waterlogged walk home.

devilflowerSasha misses Polina. Upon failing to find her at a club, he decides to go home early. And the next day he actually loses his polo match. Polina, meanwhile, stands before her window scantily clad.

Polina becomes increasingly disturbed by the book and by her friend’s creepy behavior. She decides to return the book to the library, but unfortunately the library has gone up in flames. Nastia cackles eerily at a new image of Polina standing before the explosive inferno and Polina runs to a local bar. There she finds Sasha winning an arm wrestling contest.  When Polina explains how confused she is, Sasha suggests that she have a drink. This advice is so moving that with no intervening motivation, the couple finds themselves having sex in Sasha’s garret apartment. The next day, however, the love affair stumbles when Polina catches one of her friends kissing a not entirely displeased Sasha. Polina refuses his calls and they both mope picturesquely around town.

Soon Christmas time arrives, and Polina finds herself looking into a shop window which is displaying a vase which uncannily resembles the devil’s flower. As she stands there, the dark horseman approaches her. When she turns to him, he smirks at her.

In the book, a new image appears showing Polina being placed upon a sacrificial altar. Nastya becomes convinced that Polina is in danger, and she calls to arrange a meeting with Sasha. Unfortunately, on her way to the meeting, the horseman materializes and kicks her to her death down a flight of icy steps. When Sasha sees the gruesome scene on the local news, he runs out to find Polina.

devilflowerAfter the world’s slowest car chase and most pointless scramble through the woods, Sasha finally confronts the dark horseman. Polina, dressed in the white medieval gown of her dream, is lying unconscious after having been thrown against a wall. Sasha and the horseman wrestle until Sasha shoves a sliver of wood in the horseman’s eye and kicks him over a railing to be gorily impaled on a spike below. Unfortunately, Polina then awakens to totter out onto the balcony and accidentally fall off the edge herself. Sasha manages to find a rope and pulls her up to safety. They ride off through the woods on a black horse.

About thirty minutes into the movie, Polina complains to Nastia, “It doesn’t make sense!” Truer words have rarely been spoken. What was the devil’s flower? Who was the horseman? What does he want with Polina? What is going on? Where did Nastya get Sasha’s phone number? These are just a few of the many questions left unanswered by this film. Effort could be expended upon exploring symbolism of the battle over mastery for the vulvic flower (if that was indeed what was happening), but when the basic elements of the film are so confused, it seems a somewhat pointless endeavor.  

Filmic elements that should contribute to the audiences understanding go sadly astray. Suspenseful music is employed without clear meaning. Camera angles that suggest the characters are being watched are never explained. Are they being watched? Are they not? Stilted dialogue and awkward editing contribute to the overall torpor of the film. Moments that are supposed to be filled with tension are alternatively boring or hilarious.

devilflowerThe budget for the film was generous by Russian standards- well over the amount spent on other big budget films such as Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006).This fiscal abundance is evidenced through flashy (and pointless) effects, exotic locations and some striking cinematography. Undoubtedly, the film is extraordinarily beautiful. Some of the shots of Olga Khokhlova, who plays Polina, are absolutely luminescent. Sadly the artistic vision behind the camera and the narrative vision in the editing room did not come together coherently. 

Devil’s Flower may not have begun as a response to the internationally popular Twilight saga, but it was clearly shaped by it. What emerges is a confused and confusing film, trying too hard to recreate the feeling of the other films through its color palette and American alternative rock soundtrack. The trailer promises audiences that “Seduction is inevitable.” This did not turn out to be the case.

Emily Hillhouse
University of Texas, Austin

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Devil’s Flower, Russia 2010
Color, 90 min.
Director, Scriptwriter: Katia Grokhovskaia
Cinematography: Andrei Makarov
Original Music: Evgenii Galperin
Cast: Marina Golub, Andrei Kharitonov, Ol’ga Khokhlova, Sergei Krapiva, Irina Kupchenko, Elena Levkovich, Natal’ia Naumova, Roman Pakhomov, Natal’ia Rudova , Oleg Sukachenko
Production: ZG Film

Ekaterina Grokhovskaia:  Devil’s Flower (Tsvetok D’iavola, 2010)

reviewed by Emily Hillhouse © 2011

Updated: 02 Oct 11