Issue 67 (2020)

Fedor Konstantinovich: Good Evening (Dobryi vecher, 2018)

reviewed by Stehn Aztlan Mortensen © 2020

In his first feature-length film Good Evening, director and screenwriter Fedor Konstantinovich has experimented to create a piece of dark and self-deprecating Russian art-house comedy. The film could be classified as a crossbreed of a cheeky crime story and a meta-mockumentary featuring staged, behind-the-scenes interviews with actors as they are getting into character.

dobryi vecherThe plot unfolds in a roadside inn in the middle of nowhere, run by hotel manager Nikolai. We meet a vulgar sex worker, an adventurous writer, an orthodox monastic, and a petty criminal, all staying in adjacent rooms. The story begins as the writer picks up the sex worker from a desolate bus stop to go to the hotel for champagne and loud sex. The prostitute is secretly working with the thug—she exchanges texts with him from the bathroom—in order to steal the client’s undersized car. While the writer falls asleep from post-coital drowsiness, the prostitute snatches the car keys. The bandit has meanwhile been befriending the monk staying in one of the other rooms; they chat as the gangster drinks booze and snorts coke, before suddenly pulling a gun and aiming at the monk. As the prostitute knocks on the door to check on the situation, the monastic hits the bandit with a bottle over the back of the head, thus waking up the writer. They are then left to dispose of the body in the tiny car. End of story.

If this were a short film, the deliberately silly plot would perhaps be entertaining enough. But the storyline is repeated no less than four times, with only minor variations. The episodes are entitled “Ms Jennings,” “The Crazed Monk,” “Metamorphoses” and “Nikolai,” and the first part is shot in black and white. The actors, apart from the cocky hotel manager (who seems more interested in posing for the camera rather than fulfilling any narrative function), switch roles in each episode.

dobryi vecherIn her coverage of Kinotavr 2012, Nancy Condee notes the rise of the almanac in Russian cinema, seeing it as a means for independent filmmakers to adjust to unstable budgets and working conditions, with the added benefit of allowing for a new kind of aesthetics, which in turn invites different modes of narrative interpretation. Konstantinovich’s reasons for choosing to make Good Evening as a segmented film could therefore be at least twofold. Yet the chief purpose seems to have been a desire to mimic a metonymic dream logic of displacement; towards the end, in one of the fake behind-the-scenes clips, the film’s founding idea is discussed: it’s meant to be a dream, culminating in a big pillow/gun fight. There is displacement at work here, to be sure, but simultaneously very little condensation; the palpable lack of dream metaphors thus makes the film almost mechanical in its switching of roles and situations. It’s somehow too stylized and neat to make for a convincing dream.

dobryi vecherThere are more issues with this film than this short review will be able to address. However, I will try to name a few. First, the core concept is not without merit. Letting the actors switch roles mixes up gender constellations, in turn altering the dynamics of each iteration of the story. This move incidentally gives us a gay and a lesbian variation of the plot, likely an attempt to heighten the film’s shock factor. It soon becomes obvious that the director has lumped these disparate elements together (e.g. gay sex, nunsploitation, Soviet comedy and Western film references) in order to enter into a parodic tongue-and-cheek dialogue with a slew of related films and genres.

dobryi vecherBut whereas other great directors with a passion for provocation like, say, Quentin Tarantino or Aleksei Balabanov, have tended to base their films on a thrilling story even when playing with genre for parodic and comedic effect, Konstantinovich’s script is so weak that it can barely sustain a feature-length film. In an interview with Snob magazine (Konstantinovich 2015), the director explains that he usually doesn’t spend too much time working on a script, since he likes to create content as he goes along. This method may have worked for Sergei Dvortsevoi when making Aika (2019) over the course of several years, but it is not for everyone. The result here is that Good Evening feels irksomely vacuous, and even fails to be entertaining on a very basic level due to its simplistic and repetitive rehashing of the same tenuous storyline four times over. The fact that the film also seems to revel in its own coolness at every opportunity (e.g. characters striking endless poses with their guns) only solidifies the impression that we are watching a drawn-out session of cinematic masturbation rather than a daring indie experiment deserving attention of a wider audience.

dobryi vecherThe same problem can be found in Konstantinovich’s short film A.D.I.D.A.S. (All Day I Dream About Sex, 2015), which can perhaps be described as a Freudian pastiche, a road movie about a couple’s sex therapy and the fear of imminent apocalypse in the form of a meteorite. The main metaphor that runs through the film could not have been more over-the-top: the meteorite hitting earth in a big cataclysmic impact is mirrored in the girl’s desire to be strangled to death at the moment of orgasm. Good Evening in many ways is a great improvement, as it doesn’t make the viewer cringe every other minute. It also has a professional veneer from beginning to end.

dobryi vecherThe actors, Vilma Kutavičiūtė, Filipp Savinkov, Kristina Kazinskaia and Artem Tsukanov, all make a heroic effort to save the film from itself. Their stellar performances make for some genuinely funny moments. Even though Good Evening seems to be working with much untapped potential, it ultimately falls flat, first and foremost because of its eagerness to come off as shocking and provocative, without any overarching agenda. In effect, it turns to nuns, monks, drugs, guns, booze, crime and prostitution to create a showy mix of aimless fun and narrative anemia. In contrast to the dull macho-performance of the hotel manager, caught up in trying to exude some mysterious male aura, the gender play that permeates this film is no doubt its most interesting innovation. Tweaked stereotypes like the trashy Russian gay callboy and the female thug with a gun, as well as the scandalously flirtatious lesbian picking up a girl in a hoodie, and the quirky nun with an eye disorder, ensure some of the film’s most memorable moments.

Stehn Aztlan Mortensen
University of Bergen

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Works Cited

Condee, Nancy. 2012. “Realities of Russian Cinema (Kinotavr 2012).” KinoKultura (38). 

Konstantinovich, Fedor. 2015. “Kino na ‘Snobe’: seks pod konets sveta v fantasticheskom roud-muvi A.D.I.D.A.S.” Snob. 29 May.

Good Evening, Russia, 2018.
B&W and Color, 80 minutes.
Director and Scriptwriter: Fedor Konstantinovich
Production Design: Aleksei Garikovich
Cinematography: Mael Teo Duval
Editing: Evgenii Gvozdev
Music: Anton Legat
Sound: Vsevolod Vediakin
Cast: Vilma Kutavičiūtė, Kristina Kazinskaia, Filipp Savinkov, Artem Tsukanov
Producers: Dmitrii Sharov, Kirill Alekhin

Fedor Konstantinovich: Good Evening (Dobryi vecher, 2018)

reviewed by Stehn Aztlan Mortensen © 2020

Updated: 2020