Issue 46 (2014)

Nigina Saifullaeva: Name Me (Kak menia zovut, 2014)

reviewed by John A. Riley© 2014

storm warningOriginally titled Storm Warning (Shtormovoe preduprezhdenie), the release title of this film from first-time director Nigina Saifullaeva literally means “What’s my name?” and suggests the theme of confused identity. The film establishes this theme in the opening scenes, which introduce Olia and Sasha, two school-girls visiting Crimea from Moscow to reunite Olia with her estranged father Sergei. Peering through a gap in a fence and seeing her gruff, slovenly father for the first time, Olia panics and is unable to go through with the meeting. The two girls quickly hatch a plot to switch places: the vivacious, precocious Sasha introduces herself as Olia, while the demure, retiring Olia poses as her friend.

From this identity switch, which sounds like the setup for a knockabout stage farce, Saifullaeva fashions a coming-of-age story, in which two girls experience the sharp end of romantic and paternal love. Sasha and Olia have contrasting personalities: Olia is academically successful while Sasha has dropped out of school; Sasha’s actions catalyse the plot, while Olia spends most of the film observing rather than participating. 

storm warningIn addition to Sergei, there is another male character: Kirill, a local boy with whom Sasha quickly develops a relationship. But Sasha also takes the lead in questioning Sergei, asking about his life, and about his short-lived relationship with Olia’s mother. While Olia sits and listens, it quickly becomes clear that Sasha is growing more interested in Sergei than his actual daughter is. Quite early on there is a hint that her interest is sexual; she comments to Olia that she wishes they’d introduced themselves correctly so that she was free to make sexual advances to him.

Without telling Olia, Sasha stows away in Sergei’s car, and the two bond further as her presence in the car means that she ends up helping him with his illegal fishing racket. When Olia wakes and finds Sasha gone, she contacts Kirill. Perhaps envious of Sasha’s bond with Sergei, she instructs Sergei to take her to “wherever you let shit off the hook” rather than to help her find Sasha.

storm warningIn a mirroring of an earlier scene when Kirill and Sasha have sex aboard a yacht while a film producer’s party rages around them, Kirill drives Olia to a nightclub. She takes some drugs that Kirill offers her, and soon their dancing is more frantic; eventually they have sex as the other revelers dance around them. Olia’s drug-addled night out leads to a denouement in which Sergei eventually discovers that he has been deceived as to the real identity of his daughter.
The casting of Konstantin Lavronenko as Sergei—the gruff, estranged patriarch—calls to mind The Return (Vozvrashchenie, Andrei Zviagintsev, 2003) where two young boys re-establish a relationship with their estranged father, also played by Lavronenko. Perhaps Lavronenko’s presence is a deliberate nod to this earlier, internationally acclaimed film. A couple of short scenes have the same ethereal blue tint as Zviagintsev’s film, but that is where the similarity ends. Saifullaeva favors verisimilitude and immediacy over melancholy austerity. The segment in which a vodka-fuelled bonding session between Sergei and the two girls gradually grows into an excruciating game of truth or dare and culminates in a violent eruption of Sergei’s temper, is subtly but energetically done.

storm warningWhile the cinematography and direction, slightly seasick handheld shots and close-ups that seem to speak volumes about what the characters are thinking, are excellent, the script and characterizations are not as well-judged. The portrayal of the girls’ contrasting personalities is rather obviously stated, almost to the point where they threaten to become stereotypes. From the opening of the film, Sasha’s need to manipulate men is underscored. Freshly arrived in the Crimea, she seductively feasts on a lollipop while staring down a transfixed local man. Later on, Sergei accuses her of "fucking with everybody just because you’ve got the looks" and at this point in the narrative, it’s hard not to see Sasha as a re-hash of the femme fatale.

However, the film’s ending redeems this, hinting that Sasha’s experience in the Crimea, and with her substitute father, have taught her that she’s been relying on the superficial approval of men. Sasha giving the gauche Kirill the brush off as he grovels in front of her, apologizing for having sex with Olia, is one of the film’s more satisfying moments.

In the collection Cinepaternity, Helena Goscilo and Yana Hashamova posit that “in Soviet and post-Soviet films that explore father-son relations Lacan’s emphasis on the centrality of the father’s role in the individual’s socialization translates into the relegation not only of the mother but of any female presence to the periphery” (2010, 7). Putting psychoanalysis aside, it does seem that father-and-son narratives have dominated Russian cinema, and it is good to see this film prefer to construct daughters who (although sketchily characterized in places) exist on their own terms.

storm warningGoscilo and Hashamova also mention the “post-Soviet habit of consigning women to the periphery” (2010, 17). Geographically speaking, the relation of the centre to the periphery has been another major theme in Russian culture. Here, two young Muscovite girls are consigned to the geographic periphery of the Crimean peninsula to find an estranged patriarch. A little more sense of what their lives in Moscow are like would have added to the culture shock of rural shacks and semi-deserted beaches.

The Crimea and the Black Sea region have always been a place of discovery in Russian culture, as seaside regions are in many cultures, so it seems apt to set a story of adolescent self-discovery in this area. As the film unfolds though, there’s a creeping sense of bad timing, watching a coming-of-age drama of Russian girls on the Crimea as a conflict rages on. In that it deals with these two concerns though, the relevance of the father and the geography of Russian periphery, the film will be of interest to scholars of Russian film.

John A. Riley
Woosong University

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Works Cited

Goscilo, Helena and Yana Hashimova, eds (2010). Cinepaternity: Fathers and Sons in Soviet and Post-Soviet Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Name Me, Russia, 2014
Color, 93 minutes
Director: Nigina Saifullaeva
Script: Liubov’ Mul’menko, Nigina Saifullaeva
DoP Mark Ziselson
Production Design Marusia Parfenova-Chukhrai
Costume Design Marusia Parfeneva-Chukhrai
Sound Evgeni Goryainov
Editing Vadim Krasnitskii
Cast: Konstantin Lavronenko, Aleksandra Bortich, Marina Vasilieva, Kirill Kaganovich, Anna Kotova
General Producer Igor Tolstunov
Producers Sergei Kozlov, Sergei Kornikhin, Anna Kagarlitskaya
Production Production Firm of Igor Tolstunov (ProFIT), Film Company “Drug-druga”
Distribution (RF) Nashe Kino

Nigina Saifullaeva: Name Me (Kak menia zovut, 2014)

reviewed by John A. Riley© 2014

Updated: 04 Oct 14