Issue 67 (2020)

Aleksei Nuzhnyi: Loud Connection (Gromkaia sviaz’, 2019)

reviewed by Tim Harte © 2020

gromkaia sviazRussian cinema is not known for its remakes of Western films. In Russia today, Russianized versions of this or that popular television series from the West can readily be found on television screens, but when it comes to the big screen, the remake (remeik) has been quite a rare thing. With his widely distributed 12 (2007), Nikita Mikhalkov harkened back to classic Hollywood cinema and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), but the list of prominent Russian remakes nevertheless remains a short one. Yet why the Russian reluctance to redo Western films? Hard to say, of course, but from its inception, Russian and Soviet cinema has stridently resisted Western models and Western precedent.  Whether it be Evgenii Bauer, Sergei Eisenstein, Grigorii Aleksandrov, Andrei Tarkovsky, Aleksei Iu. German, or even El’dar Riazanov, Russian cinema’s most celebrated and cherished filmmakers have, far more often than not, charted their own creative course in isolation from the West. 

gromkaia sviazSo when a Russian remake of a Western film comes around, it is saying something.  Over the last several years the widely popular Italian comedy Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti, 2016), directed by Paolo Genovese, has continued to be remade in a host of other countries (Greece, Turkey, France, South Korea, China, Mexico, and counting), and now Aleksei Nuzhnyi’s Loud Connection (Gromkaia sviaz’, 2019) joins the lot with its Russianized take on this Italian film’s highly adaptable premise and plot. That a Russian filmmaker such as Nuzhnyi has looked to mainstream Western European cinema suggests, one might argue, that there has arisen at least some desire on the part of contemporary Russian culture to see itself as part of the West, for better or worse. Or is it a case of Russian cinema cashing in on a marketable, enticing formula? Probably a bit of both.

gromkaia sviazThe plot of Perfect Strangers—and by extension Loud Connection—is contemporary to the core, yet relatively straightforward.  A group of longtime friends—three married couples and a fourth man who arrives without his new girlfriend in tow—convene at the countryside home of one of these well-to-do couples. It is when they are all sitting at the dinner table and discussing what if any secrets each of them might be keeping from his or her respective partner that someone proposes playing a game requiring all of them to put their phones in the middle of the table so as to see who texts, sexts, or calls them. By reading all the texts, examining all the various selfies sent their way, and answering the incoming calls on speakerphone—the loud connection (gromkaia sviaz’) of this quite faithful Russian remake—they will, as it soon becomes clear, be able to learn a lot more than they initially reckoned on at the start of their long evening and their seemingly innocent game. 

gromkaia sviazMiddle age unease and marital bumps in the road are at the heart of all the intrigue. One couple, Lev and Eva (played by Kamil Larin and Mariia Mironova), are already at odds over what to do about their teenage daughter (Veronika Kornienko) and her burgeoning sexuality, while another of the couples, Alina and Boris (Irina Gorbacheva and Rostislav Khait), bicker over their dealings with his aging mother while he shows little interest in his wife’s fashion choices. Meanwhile, the third couple, the recently married Vadim and Katia (Leonid Barats and Anastasiia Ukolova), struggle with issues of trust, past relationships, and a rather large age difference (he has several decades on her). And then there is the solo Dmitrii (Aleksandr Demidov), who makes somewhat dubious excuses as to why his new partner cannot be there. And into the rather delicate mix comes the unexpected, as calls and messages reveal clandestine plastic surgery, illicit messages, secret lovers, and so forth.

gromkaia sviazAmidst all the comedic banter and marital intrigue, a compelling rapport emerges between the character actors in Loud Connection. The film’s four male actors, who have worked together since the mid-1990s as founders of the Moscow theater group “Kvartet I” and have appeared together in a series of light Russian comedies (Election Day [Den’ vyborov, 2007], What Men Talk About [O chem govoriat mushchiny, 2010], and Faster Than Rabbits [Bystree, chem kroliki, 2014]), clearly have a fine understanding of one another’s ticks and performative persona. So even if Loud Connection happens to be a relatively straightforward remake, it takes advantage of its actors’ collaborative relationship and rapport. 

gromkaia sviazMeanwhile, the central comedic crux of Loud Connection as well as its germane social significance in contemporary Russia, even if it is a remake, arises when Boris, fearing that Alina will learn of the sexting he engages in with a young, attractive female friend, begs a wary and reluctant Dmitrii to temporarily swap ownership of their identical phones. But the incoming calls to Dmitrii, calls that Boris suddenly has to answer for, pull back the curtain on Dmitrii’s romantic partner, who just happens to be male. All of this makes for some artful gymnastics from Boris, who in order to hide his sexting habit from his wife, has to play along and tell Alina that he has a gay lover. Boris’s buddies, not surprisingly, are shocked, particularly the explicitly homophobic Vadim; all the while the closeted Dmitrii itches to reveal the truth to his friends. 

It seems safe to submit that the over-the-phone intrusion of Dmitrii’s gay lover and Boris’s feigned homosexuality would not be much cause for concern or indignation among Italian audiences or among most spectators watching those other Perfect Strangers remakes around the world, yet it is easy to imagine how such a revealing plot twist could raise a few eyebrows among Russian audiences, given gender politics in today’s Russia. Loud Connection may end in a relatively innocuous way, as a slightly contrived plot twist taken straight from the Italian original allows all the conflict to be brushed under the rug and for the characters to go on with their lives and their deceptions as if nothing has happened. If anything, it is this relatively benign, happy ending that strikes this reviewer at least as the most un-Russian thing in the film. But that this comedy raises the issue of homosexuality through such mainstream means hints, I would also contend, at perhaps the beginning of a thaw in cultural norms and a Russian acceptance of Western mores, quite apart from cinema.

Tim Harte
Bryn Mawr College

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Loud Connection, 2019 Russia
Color, 96 min.
Director: Aleksei Nuzhnyi
Script: Leonid Barats
Based on Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti) by Filippo Bologna, Paolo Costello, Paolo Genovesse, Paola Mammini, and Rolando Ravello
Cinematographer: Mikhail Milashin
Music: Dmitrii Emelianov, Dmitrii Lanskoi, Iurii Abbakumov
Cast: Kamil Larin, Mariia Mironova, Rostislav Khait, Irina Gorbacheva, Leonid Barats, Aleksandr Demidov, Anastasiia Ukolova
Producer: Leonid Barats, Larisa Blazhko, Ruben Dishdishyan, Natal’ia Frolova, Rostislav Khait

Aleksei Nuzhnyi: Loud Connection (Gromkaia sviaz’, 2019)

reviewed by Tim Harte © 2020

Updated: 2020