Issue 51 (2016)

Anna Melikian: About Love (Pro liubov', 2015)

reviewed by Ellina Sattarova© 2016

pro liubovAnna Melikian’s fourth feature film About Love was intended to be an in-between project, a crowd-pleasing commercial film that would help her finance her future efforts. Produced in a total of 25 days, Melikian’s comedy won the Grand Prix at the 2015 Kinotavr Film Festival, a victory that allegedly came as a surprise to the director, whose quirkier art-house productions, such as Mermaid (Rusalka, 2007) and The Star (Zvezda, 2014), had never won the main prize. About Love—Melikian’s venture into mainstream cinema—was also awarded the Prize of the Distributors’ Jury at Kinotavr and is indeed more likely to appeal to general audiences than her earlier films. The film is permeated with explorations of the ever-popular theme of love, and features a plethora of Russian movie stars, including Renata Litvinova, Vladimir Mashkov, Mikhail Efremov, and Evgenii Tsyganov. It offers more happy endings than all of Melikian’s earlier feature films combined. Despite its commercial orientation, About Love preserves Melikian’s playful visual and narrative style, defies rigid genre prescriptions, and ultimately takes up the same questions as her earlier feature films—the role of geographic, digital, and cultural spaces in the formation and articulation of personal identities.

About Love is the first film in Melikian’s career that does not end in the protagonist’s death but celebrates love. But then again, does it? Each of the film’s five novellas, held together by a lecture about love delivered by Renata Litvinova, leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. The first of the stories dives into the colorful world of two Moscow cosplayers (Mariia Shalaeva and Vasilii Raksha), whose love is jeopardized by their decision to step from their Japanese anime into the “real” world. Sans the costumes, makeup, and wigs, the lovers, it turns out, have nothing to say to each other. They return to their alter egos, however, and rekindle their “imaginary” love.

pro liubovThe second novella features a love triangle between a boss (Mashkov), his employee (Iuliia Snigir'), and her boyfriend (Aleksei Filimonov). While the latter secures victories in the alternate realities of his video games, Mashkov’s character offers to buy his secretary an apartment in exchange for sex. Tempted by the offer, the woman gives in only to realize that she had a momentary lapse of judgment. Her boyfriend proposes and she happily accepts. The final shot of the novella confirms, however, that the love triangle is still in place—the man’s gaze is lovingly fixed upon his computer screen.

The third story revolves around a Japanese girl who is enamored with Russian culture and comes to Moscow in the hope of falling in love with a Russian man. She goes on dates with six different “candidates” she has met on a dating website, all of whom prove to be disappointments. Most of them are after her money, and the only man willing to pay for her dinner does so to cross another nationality off his list of sex conquests. The girl does, however, find love in the end—she falls in love with the Japanese boy who, as it turns out, knows more about Russian culture than the Russian men do. The novella also ends on a sad note as it tells the boy’s side of the story, and it is one of unrequited love.

pro liubovThe fourth novella features a graffiti artist (Evgenii Tsyganov), who is infatuated with every single beauty he lays his eyes on. His desire is immediately transformed into artistic inspiration; he paints the woman’s portrait on some ugly wall only to move on to another beauty and another wall. He does have a more sensual relationship with two of his artistic inspirations, however. Once the two “lucky” ladies find out about each other’s existence, they overcome their initial frustration and decide to “make the best” of the situation as they both join the artist in bed. His mind, however, goes blank when they ask him the simple question that runs through the entire film: “What is love?”

It is the film’s final story that provides an answer to this question, and it is not an optimistic one. Litvinova’s character finishes her lecture and sets off on her own love adventure. Sex expert by day, nymphomaniac by night, she follows the orders of a potential “lover” sent to her via text messages. The mysterious stranger is none other than her ex-husband (Mikhail Efremov) who traps her with the purpose of getting her professional “assessment” of his young fiancée. The girl, it turns out, is pursuing his money, yet the love-stricken man cannot be “cured”—he is going to marry her anyway since love, in Melikian’s own definition, “is when you are in a lot of pain, when you are vulnerable and nobody can really help you” (Glamour Russia Interview).

pro liubovFragile as it is, love in Melikian’s cinematic space has to contend with the mediation of technology that permeates the lives of its “residents,” who constantly feel the urgent and irresistible need to “share,” “tweet” and “like.” To “soothe” the eye of the viewer used to the contemporary multi-screen reality, the film’s frames often split into several smaller ones, in which the familiar filmic visuals compete with chat windows, timelines and selfies. Social media, dating apps, and video games function here as the main site of identity formation and self-representation. The cosplayers, for example, do not only imitate the appearances of their favorite anime characters but also reproduce their behavioral patterns. Thus Mariia Shalaeva’s character explains her promiscuity by the strong sexual drive of her personage. Instead of “assisting” love, however, electronic devices more often than not stand in its way. Dating websites and apps prove useless, video games become the perpetual “third wheel,” while texting results in people’s inability to talk face to face with each other.

Despite the somewhat melancholic overtones, About Love remains Melikian’s most light-hearted effort, predominantly due to the charm and beauty of its cinematic space. Filled with sunlight and smiling faces, in About Love Moscow is far from the hostile and repressive space that it was in all three of Melikian’s earlier feature films. For the first time, the promise of a wonderland is gratified. In this imaginary space, even the ugly ruins exist only temporarily; they function as a creative space for the artist who is on a mission to replace the hideous walls with portraits of beautiful women, a mission not unlike that of Melikian herself. The most genuine affection in About Love is for the city itself. And this true love is capable of melting even the toughest of hearts; even the local police choose beauty over ugly walls, and allow the artist to finish his portrait before arresting him.

Ellina Sattarova
University of Pittsburgh

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About Love, Russia, 2015
Color, 115 minutes
Director: Anna Melikian
Scriptwriters :Andrei Migachev, Anna Melikian
DoP: Fedor Liass
Production Design: Vasilii Raspopov
Music Dmitrii Emelianov
Editing Mikhail Igonin
Cast: Renata Litvinova, Vladimir Mashkov, Evgenii Tsyganov, Aleksandra Bortich, Mikhail Efremov, Mariia Shalaeva, Vasilii Raksha, Ravshan Kurkova, Iurii Kolokol’nikov, Iuliia Snigir’, Aleksei Filimonov, Mariia Daniliuk, Maksim Lagashkin, Aleksandr Robak
Production Film Company Magnum

Anna Melikian: About Love (Pro liubov', 2015)

reviewed by Ellina Sattarova© 2016

Updated: 02 Jan 16