Issue 66 (2019)

Kirill Sokolov: Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni, 2018)

reviewed by Denis Saltykov © 2019

The majority of Russian film critics, directors, and intellectuals in general neglected the concept of genre in cinema after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is not to say that genre movies have been completely absent in contemporary Russia. There were criminal action films popular in the 1990s and comedies popular in the 2000s. Sometimes, directors associated with art-house and auteur cinema would use genre elements in their films, but at the same time, they felt insulted when somebody mentioned those elements (Seckler 2011). In the past five years, there has been a developing trend of genre films in Russia; at the same time, these films are being produced with the goal of making them both entertaining and relevant to the Russian cultural context. The young director Kirill Sokolov has taken a new step in this direction with his black comedy Why Don’t You Just Die.

papa sdokhniThe movie starts with a young man Matvei knocking at the door of a middle-aged, bald man—Andrei. Despite their biblical names, neither of them is a saint. Matvei keeps a hammer hidden behind his back, and his intention is well-known to the spectator from the title—in Russian, the film is called Daddy, Die. The young man says he is the boyfriend of Olia—Andrei’s daughter. Upon entering the apartment, Matvei sees Olia’s mother, Natasha, who was supposed to be away but happened to stay home. Both men sit at the table while Natasha serves them tea. The tension grows, and in a few minutes, Matvei and Andrei engage in a brutal yet amusing fight, during which blood and sweat accompany such episodes like crushing the wall with Matvei’s butt and getting stuck there until Andrei takes him out and performs a wrestling throw. After Matvei’s head is crushed with a massive old TV that is thrown at him, the title of the first of three chapters appears to show to the viewer that this spectacle was just the beginning.

Why Don’t You Just Die is constructed as almost pure genre pleasure. One of Kirill Sokolov’s major achievements here is the rhythm. The film moves very fast, even when the diegetic space is very limited. The cinematic “now” happens within one apartment, and not a big one. All the digressions are provided in form of flashbacks. They allow for more varied space but everything that happens there returns us back to the messy room, Andrei’s apartment. Matvei additionally hints to the rhythm in which his gory day is going to unfold—he asks Natasha to bring him coffee, not tea. The character wants to be energized but Andrei symbolically opposes him, claims that Matvei needs some sugar in his coffee, and goes to the kitchen. The spectator easily predicts that Andrei will not actually bring Matvei some sugar, the film’s dad returns with a gun instead. Later Evgenich, Andrei’s friend, ask for tea without sugar. He does not want the story to continue in the same sadistic rhythm.

The film premiered at the film festival Window on Europe in Vyborg, an event which became known for discovering fresh names in contemporary Russian cinema. It is also known for being more genre-friendly than Kinotavr, its primary counterpart. This start in Vyborg was a perfect choice. Sokolov’s film was well-received by critics, and even won the festival’s main award and then triumphantly went to other festivals. The critics’ compliments signify not only that Why Don’t You Just Die resonated with modern genre expectations but also critics’ willingness to acknowledge genre cinema as a progressive form in contemporary Russia.

papa sdokhni The black comedy genre often triggers very particular associations in Russian critics, specifically with the films of Quentin Tarantino. This director is extremely popular in Russia, but Sokolov himself does not agree with such a limited take on his stylistic references. For him, Tarantino’s films are about popular culture, while Sokolov uses popular culture to create social critique (Shorokhova 2019). Two directors with whom Sokolov would prefer to be compared are Park Chan-wook and Martin McDonagh (Kuzishchina and Morkin 2019). According to the director, their works remain visceral while being adjusted to their respective national characters.

Sokolov definitely tries to address particular social problems. The most important motif in his films, including his shorts Sisyphos is Happy (Sizif schastliv, 2012) and The Flame (Ogon', 2015), is family disintegration. In Why Don’t You Just Die, Andrei’s family is dysfunctional. He does not listen to his daughter and his wife, he yells at them, and generally does not want to spend time with them. Sokolov goes even far enough to create a parody on Andrei Zviagintsev’s Loveless (Neliubov', 2017). One of the characters in Why Don’t You Just Die is a young wealthy maniac played by Aleksandr Domogarov Jr. He is sent to prison for cutting a woman into pieces, but soon his parents bribe the police, and the maniac goes back on the streets. While Domogarov Jr. is waiting to be released, he is wearing the same tracksuit as wore the principal character in the final scene of Loveless, with its iconic inscription “RUSSIA.” Both films accuse the contemporary family of a lack of empathy, but Why Don’t You Just Die does it in a remarkably entertaining way.

For Sokolov, spectacle is no less important than his discourse on family disintegration. In Why Don’t You Just Die, fast camera-moves, jump-cuts, detailed plans, and cartoonish violence act for themselves. In Sokolov’s early short The Flame, there is a long fight between a pregnant woman and a man who is trying to break up with her. The fight doesn’t play well with a gloomy scene in the end of the film, in which the principal character watches unhappy village families with their male components being violent drunkards. Sokolov still wants to deliver direct social messages, as most contemporary Russian directors do. But at the same time, his cinematic interest lies in the technical sphere—therefore, the director enjoys filming the attraction itself. From this perspective, Sokolov looks rebellious in comparison to older directors. That is exactly how the title may sound in the context of the traditions of filmmaking: the original Daddy, Die may refer not necessarily to Andrei but to the previous film generation. “Daddy” is played by Vitalii Khaev, whose expressive monologue on the new “lost generation” from Playing the Victim (Izobrazhaia zhertvu, 2006) still influences his new characters. In the best tradition of Jean-Luc Godard, Sokolov stylistically challenges the Russian “daddy’s cinema” (Kudriavtsev 2019).

papa sdokhniThe stylistic challenge that Sokolov poses to more conservative filmmakers is intertwined with his playful address to the themes relevant to contemporary politics. A reviewer from The Hollywood Reporter briefly mentions that while the film looks more like “unapologetic gross-out thrill ride,” it still “can and will be read as a caustic commentary on Putin’s rotten Russia” (Dalton 2018). When asked directly, Sokolov acknowledges his intention (not a primary one though) to use the family as a mirror of the society with its anger and cruelty (Gershtein, Shuravin, and Kolosov 2019). Perhaps, one of the most evident traces of contemporary Russian politics is the image of a cruel and corrupted policeman. Andrei is scary enough to make a Rottweiler stop barking in the first scene of the film. He is brutal at work as well as at home. He is incapable of being a friend, as the spectator realizes from the story of his deception of Evgenich, Andrei’s “only friend.” Among his weapons of choice there are shotgun, a drill, and an old TV. While people critical of  contemporary Russian politics get information from the Internet, television became largely associated with state propaganda. And while such websites like OVD-Info and MediaZona thoroughly describe police brutality, state-owned TV-channels mostly silence the crimes committed by police or justify them. Therefore, there is an additional symbolism in the scene where Andrei throws a TV at Matvei’s head.

Another link to contemporary debates is the film’s reference to the #MeToo movement. In an interview, Sokolov seems to sympathize with the movement (which is not very typical for people from the Russian film industry) and mentions that the initial script was concentrated on pedophilia and incest (Shorokhova 2019). In the final version of the movie, it is Olia’s story of her father raping her that launches the main events. “He is like a cancer tumor; he continues growing inside of me; he poisons everything. He must disappear,”—the words that some Russians can easily say about the police. But then Why Don’t You Just Die goes on to reveal Olia’s own selfishness and pragmatism—she made up the story about her father to get his money after Matvei kills him. The spectator realizes that Olia is a femme fatale rather than a victim of rape. The history of genre cinema makes Sokolov repeat its misogynistic elements (this aspect of the script was also noticed in Obolonkov 2019) instead of supporting the recent feminist movements, which allegedly was the initial intention.

Sokolov has definitely succeeded in his stylistic goals. Why Don’t You Just Die is a well-done genre film of contemporary Russian cinema has only a few examples. The major problem is that reliance on genre history does not go well with Sokolov’s ambitions in delivering pro-feminist messages. Contemporary cinema in the world is still in the process of figuring out the best ways to put together progressive politics and genre plots. And Russian cinema still has a long way to go in this direction if the directors decide to do that in the first place. From this perspective, Why Don’t You Just Die seems to be just a first step. Sokolov is going to make his second feature a female-centered chase story (Bondarchuk 2019). And this time it will be not enough just to lean on the genre history; it will be equally important to find a creative way of reinterpreting the existing conventions and not to repeat the previous mistake.

Denis Saltykov
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

Bondarchuk, Oksana. 2019. “Rezhisser Kirill Sokolov o s''emkakh chernoi komedii “Papa, sdokhni,” universal'nom russkom iumore i sravnenii s Tarantino.” Tricolor TV Magazine. 5 April.

Dalton, Stephen. 2018. ““Why Don’t You Just Die!” (“Papa, sdokhni”): Film Review.” The Hollywood Reporter. 12 December.

Gershtein, Dilara and Vladislav Shuravin and Kirill Kolosov. 2019. “Rejisser i stsenarist Kirill Sokolov.” Cinematograph. 3 April.

Kudriavtsev, Sergei. 2019. “Tarantino vse eshche zhiv.” Ivi. 31 March.

Kuzishchina, Iuliia and Mikhail Morkin. 2019. “Kirill Sokolov: ““Papa, sdokhni”—ochen' russkaia istoriia.”” Kinomania. 4 April.

Obolonkov, Sergei. 2019. ““Papa, sdokhni. ” Retsenziia redaktsii.” Kino 3 April.

Seckler, Dawn. “What Does Zhanr Mean in Russian?” in Directory of World Cinema: Russia, edited by Birgit Beumers, 4:28–33. Bristol, UK; Chicago: Intellect, 2011.

Shorokhova, Tat'iana. 2019. “Rejisser chernoi komedii “Papa, sdokhni:” “U nas pankovskii attraktsion!”” Kinoafisha. 4 April.

Why Don’t You Just Die!, Russia, 2018
Color, 95 minutes
Director: Kirill Sokolov
Script: Kirill Sokolov
DoP: Dmitrii Uliukaev
Production Design: Viktor Zudin
Costume Design: Natal'ia Belousova
Music: Vadim “QP,” Sergei Solov'ev
Editing: Kirill Sokolov
Cast: Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitalii Khaev, Evgeniia Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoi, Elena Shevchenko
Producer: Sofiko Kiknavelidze
Production Company: White Mirror Film Company

Kirill Sokolov: Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni, 2018)

reviewed by Denis Saltykov © 2019

Updated: 2019