Issue 68 (2020)

Mikhail Raskhodnikov: Dear Dad (Dorogoi papa, 2019)

reviewed by Åsne Ø. Høgetveit © 2020

dorogoi papaDear Dad is Raskhodnikov’s third feature film, released in Russian cinemas in autumn 2019. Raskhodnikov has attempted to make a brightly colored comedy about family values in contemporary Russia, but fails to make it very interesting. The director’s previous film, Temporary Difficulties (Vremennye trudnosti, 2017), received criticism for how physical disabilities were presented and dealt with (see Beumers’s mention of the film in the Kinotavr 2018 festival report).

The plot of Dear Dad is conventional, and one immediately foresees most of what will happen. The main storyline is that of the businessman Vadim Diumin (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), and his estranged daughter Alina (Valentina Liapina). The topic of missing dads is not irrelevant to Russian teens. Moreover, it is a recurring topic in Russian cinema across most genres and over time. It is not a bad idea to make heart-warming comedy about what most often are serious and troublesome situations. I imagine that such a film could be a source of some relief for a teenager to see a peer in a relatable situation handling an estranged father, or parent. However, it would require clever timing and laughter. Unfortunately, Raskhodnikov and his team have produced a film that feels banal and embarrassingly old-fashioned. Neither the plot nor character development is clever or engaging.

dorogoi papaThe rich, charming businessman Vadim long ago abandoned his family (his mother, a daughter, and her mother) to do what he loves and is good at—business. Through the film, though, he will learn to value his family over his business. The stakes are high for Vadim the businessman, and it is a win-all or lose-all game. In the opening sequence he is playing the Chinese strategy game Go, trying to land a big contract with a Chinese businessman.

During the negotiations, we learn that Vadim transferred the company shares to his mother, for strategic reasons. Unfortunately, his mother died six months earlier. Vadim can only just now get his shares back, when his mother’s will is released. The Chinese man agrees to wait two days for Vadim to get organized, or else he will take his business to Vadim’s competitor. Vadim takes his stunning and clever personal assistant, Olga (Ieva Andreevaite), to his mother’s home town of Novorossiisk by the Black Sea, to meet with the solicitor who has his mother’s will. Vadim is taken by surprise when it turns out his mother transferred the shares to his daughter, Alina, whom he left when she was two years old. The solution is simple: he has to find Alina and use his charm and people skills to convince her to transfer the shares back to him. Alina is a bright and righteous girl, who stands up for her principles and cares for the people around her. For example, in one scene she announces that she will perform a twerk dance in front of her class, to prove a point to her strict teacher.

dorogoi papaIn trying to win his daughter’s goodwill and trust, Vadim stages a bar fight at the restaurant where she works, so that he can come in and save her. Next, he buys her all the cakes and deserts at a café. Finally, he arranges a twerk lesson for her, where he too participates.

Alina’s mother, Inna Diumina (Irina Pegova), warns her daughter about Vadim, telling her that he will manipulate her, and only has his own self-interest in mind. Alina is not dumb, she can make up her own mind, and is practically immune to manipulation and scheming – from either her mother or her father. Still, she wants to get to know her father, and share her insights on his business with him. When some local petty criminals come after him, she saves him twice, and during the escape, they truly bond. Alina agrees to transfer the shares to him, and he can go back to Moscow and seal the deal with the Chinese businessman.

dorogoi papaHowever, Alina gets cold feet about the solo twerk performance at school, phones her dad, crying, but he is on the road to catch the plane back to Moscow. Alina’s tears are running down her cheeks while doing the embarrassing twerk in front of her peers and vicious teacher. None of her peers comes to her rescue, but rather shares her humiliation and shame. Then a big black car drives into the school yard, blasting loud music: her father has returned and joins in the dance. Then, of course, everyone joins in: her mother, her mother’s new boyfriend, Vadim’s personal assistant, and all the classmates. In the end the Chinese man approves of Vadim’s priorities, and decides to sign the deal. Apparently, the message of the story is that you can have it all – money, family and love.

The supporting story lines primarily function to establish characters and their relationships. The mother finds a new boyfriend, who goes under the name Rybak (an unsettling character, with dubious connections and a handgun in the glove department of his car), the mother and the personal assistant bond over Vadim, the personal assistant and Vadim develop a romantic relationship, and Vadim reminisces about his school days with an old acquaintance who used to bully him.

dorogoi papaDear Dad does not feel relevant for 2020. The film is not particularly interesting, in part because it is so predictable, in part because the characters’ development is not engaging or convincing, and in part because the initial conflict between family and money in the end turns out not to be a conflict at all. Vadim is not cynical enough to begin with for him to show a real change of character. We never doubt that he cares about the people around him. So much is obvious in the way he treats his subordinates at the company during the opening sequence. And in the end the change is not that dramatic, since we are reminded that he actually did not lose anything in the end. Alina forgives and reconciles with her father too easily: the man who abandoned her and her mother, who only shows up when he needs his property back, wins her unlimited trust and love with sweets and two days of attention. Never mind that her mother only can afford porridge for dinner until payday, and that her father initially uses violence to try and get her sympathy.

The element of twerking is included in an attempt to bring in contemporary teen culture and as a source of humor, but it does not work. Instead, I am more embarrassed by the filmmakers who are trying too hard, than I am about Vadim giving his best on the dance-floor. Not to mention the unnecessary close-up sequence of twerking teen bums in high cut denim shorts. It is all too obvious that the filmmakers are middle aged men who do not know much about teen culture or what it is like to be a teenage girl.

dorogoi papaThe way masculinity is portrayed in the film is another unnerving element. Vadim and Rybak both resort to violence when they try and resolve their (emotionally grounded) issues—reconnecting with lost daughters and dealing with jealousy. Both of them are potential father-figures to Alina, and presented as potential romantic subjects. Considering the premise of the story—a father who abandoned his child, and the backdrop of domestic violence against women and children in contemporary Russia, none of these men are particularly good role models for future partners and fathers.

Vadim is the focal point of the film, and the character who holds the perspective through most of the film. This is part of the problem with Dear Dad. I do not believe the target audience of this film is fathers who have left their children or in other ways are estranged from their children. I think the filmmakers wanted to reach teens, Alina’s peers. By not telling Alina’s story, by not allowing her perspective and development to be the focal point, Dear Dad probably does not communicate well with this audience group. Why are there so few scenes with Alina in dialogue with her friends, or any supporting story lines about those friends? Several reviewers have pointed out how out dated the film is (Rel'm 2019; Shabaev 2019), a view with which I agree. Successful films and TV-series aimed at teens typically tell the stories from their perspectives, and make them the protagonists. At the end of the film we see that Vadim’s life is complete, but what about Alina’s life and needs?

Åsne Ø. Høgetveit,
UiT The Arctic University of Norway

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Works Cited

Beumers, Birgit. 2018. “Watching Experiences: Kinotavr 2018”. KinoKultura 61.

Rel'm, Liliia. 2019. “Papa, tverkai!” 10 September.

Shabaev, Marat. 2019. “‘Dorogoi papa’: Retsenziia Kinoafishi.” Kinoafisha 11 September.

Dear Dad, Russia, 2019
Color, 90 min
Director: Mikhail Raskhodnikov
Screenplay: Tikhin Kornev, Pavel Ruminov, Maksim Romantsov
DoP: Stanislav Sharkov
Production Design: Arkadii Baimatov, Tat’iana Umanets
Music: Il’ia Andrus, Aleksandr Ovchinnikov
Editing: Aleksandr Amirov
Cast: Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Valentina Liapina, Irina Pegova, Vladimir Sychev
Producers: Vladimir Poliakov, Georgii Mal’kov, Konstantin Elkin
Production: Emotion Pictures

Mikhail Raskhodnikov: Dear Dad (Dorogoi papa, 2019)

reviewed by Åsne Ø. Høgetveit © 2020

Updated: 2020