Issue 69 (2020)

Tigran Keosayan: The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love! (Krymskii most. Sdelano s liuboviu! 2018)

reviewed by Anastasia Kriachko Røren © 2020

crimean bridgeCrimea, 1945. The parents of the Crimean Tatar boy Damir are in exile, nobody really knows where. He does not know if he will ever see them again. Damir is lost and stays alone near the Kerch (railway) Bridge, built in 1944 across the Kerch strait that connected the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea and was the predecessor of the Crimean Bridge, which opened in May 2018. But one evening there are two staying under the bridge: Damir and Raya. He tells his girlfriend about his family’s fate, ending with the words: “So, it had to be”. Right after mentioning the loss of his parents, he leans in for a romantic kiss. The intimacy is interrupted by a guard on the bridge who reminds them that a curfew is in effect. Raya is about to run away, but Damir stops her and suggests they meet every year under the bridge should they lose each other. Soon after, the bridge is destroyed by the ice that floats into the bay, similar to what happened to the real Kerch Bridge. Raya disappears together with her father, the constructor of the bridge. The state punishes him for the collapse of the bridge by sending a “voronok” (а black vehicle for the transport of prisoners) to arrest the constructor and his family. Raya’s neighbor, who is afraid to explain her disappearance (or does not want to talk to the teenager), repeats to Damir his own words: “So, it had to be.”

This opening scene is meant to suggest that this film is not about politics, but about love. The creators of the film, as well as state officials and TV channels which actively promoted the film, kept repeating that this is a long-awaited romantic comedy about summer, love, and everyday life on the bridge construction site. The first three minutes of the film introduce the historical facts about the first bridge to the Crimea peninsula, the Kerch Bridge which collapsed in February 1945. The historical reference serves to show there was no attempt to build a new one, until now. The story is thus set to the construction of the new combined rail- and road-bridge, which connects Crimea to the Russian mainland and was completed in 2018 (road) and 2019 (rail segment).

crimean bridgeDifferent characters meet at the construction site on hot summer days while the bridge is being built between 2016-17. The young constructor worker Dima and PR specialist Viktor are both trying to win the heart of Varya, a young archeologist. The local pensioner Damir rents out the rooms in his house to make a living and spends his days fishing. Journalist Tikhon arrives in Kerch to write an article about the old Kerch Bridge. He rents a room from Damir and falls in love with Damir’s granddaughter Alya. At the end of the film, most characters find their matches and the new Crimean bridge is completed. The Bridge’s opening ceremony in the final scene shows happy couples and crowds with flags marching along the bridge. Damir is reunited with his long-lost Raya on the newly-built bridge as the popular singer Viktoria Cherentsova performs the song “Motherland” (“Rodina”) composed by “Trofim” (Sergei Trofimov).

The film was made by the famous media couple Margarita Simonyan and Tigran Keosayan. Keosayan, son of Soviet Armenian filmmaker Edmond Keosayan (1936-1994) is a director with a range of films in different genres completed since the early 1990s. Since 2016 he has been working as a host for the satirical news show “Mezhdunarodnaia pilorama” on NTV. Simonyan is editor-in-chief of Russia Today and the news agency Rossiia Segodnia. She has said in interviews that writing the script for The Crimean Bridge was like a hobby for her, something she accomplished in her spare time over a period of three months; the result shows the lack of time and experience. Crimean Bridge was recognized as a film with “special social significance” and received state funding. Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinskii characterized it in the following terms: “The film is socially significant because the Crimean Bridge is a great engineering structure. Because the film is not about the bridge, not about the technical construction, but about love. And all this is connected to Crimea” (Zhelnov and Sindeeva 2018).

How political is the film? At the premiere, the press-secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova expressed the state’s interest in the film: “For me, it is not just a film. It is a continuation of the realization of that idea which we announced, nobody believed in it in the West. But it has been realized. People got a fantastic finalized project” (Rossiia 24, 2018). The film makes no direct references to the annexation of Crimea and the strategic significance of the bridge. Although Damir is a Crimean Tatar, he refuses to ascribe a negative meaning to the deportation of Crimean Tatars under Stalin. There is one scene that shows the tension between the everyday and political issues about the bridge: people at the market moan about life under Russian rule, grumbling about high prices and convicts being brought to Crimea to help build the bridge. Tikhon, the hipster-journalist, asks them whether their life was better before the annexation of Crimea, upon which one of the market sellers hits him on the nose and calls him a “Ukrainian saboteur” [khokhliatskii diversant].

crimean bridgeThe film at times resembles a hodgepodge of tasteless clichés, failed jokes, and tacky allegories. For instance, Berik used to be a shepherd in the Caucasus and now works as a guide; he dreams of marrying an American woman. He is lucky enough to meet the American journalist Rachel, whom everybody calls “fat,” and the contrast is sharp with the young model-like Russian girls who pretend to be archeologists. Both Berik and Rachel are loitering, spending their time in restaurants, bars, and sightseeing. At one of the restaurants, Berik proclaims: “Stop feeding the Caucasus” (a reference to the federal authorities prioritizing the Caucasus over other Russian regions when it comes to funding). Similarly, when Berik buys an engagement ring to propose to Rachel, the Armenian jeweler offers him for a bride one of his daughters instead of Rachel: “At least she is Russian,” he declares, while the camera turns to a girl who looks like the caricature of an overweight Armenian woman with a unibrow. Indeed, in a number of scenes the film appears to unite people not by a purpose but to show ethnic diversity, often driven by clichés (as shown in the above examples): a Cossack, a Crimean Tatar, a Moscow hipster, a “fat” American, a provincial Caucasian, a shy Tatar girl, a macho constructor, and a beautiful European-looking female archeologist.

The protagonists have little to do with each other except for the location—and the fact that everyone finds a girlfriend during the film. Keosayan and Simonyan talked in interviews about their connection to everyday life at the construction work at the bridge, and how some of the workers became models for some of the characters, for example the misogynistic Cossack Mikhalych, who owns a boat, wears a sailor’s vest and a Cossack’s hat. No one knows what he is actually doing at this construction site as he is never seen working. His role is simply to be a Cossack and share an odd romantic relationship with the cook, Lara. Lara is not just an ordinary cook from the canteen, but happens to be a former basketball champion. To connect these two characters, they end up for some obscure reason in a boat in a storm when the motor stalls; of course, a former sports champion, Lara rows the boat to the shore and saves their lives.

crimean bridgeHowever, the central love story between Damir and Raya opens and closes the film. Damir has accepted Stalin’s politics and is loyal to the current authorities. He watches and agrees with political TV shows that announce: “Western democracy cannot work equally well in all countries.” Meanwhile, Raya, the daughter of the deported engineer, is found at the end of the film “somewhere in Siberia.” Tikhon sends her a letter and “luckily” she makes it in time and arrives from the snowy Siberian nowhere to the opening ceremony of the new Crimean Bridge. Her meeting with Damir on the new bridge ends the film and closes love story. A true romantic masterpiece.

Hipster-journalist Tikhon is also quite a caricature. He appears to be the embodiment of what older generations imagine young people to look and be like. He calls his mother all the time, posts everything on social media without considering the filmed people’s consent. But even a hipster can become a hero: Tikhon asks Damir about the old bridge (he is supposed to write an article about it) and it is he who finds Raya. Damir’s granddaughter Alya has a romantic interest in Tikhon. Construction worker Dima stereotypically portrays her as a conservative Muslim Tatar, and explains to the journalist that he cannot just have sex with her, but that he should first marry her. It is quite a task to figure out why Alya is placed in the plot other than that she “represents” some far-fetched ideal of what Tatars are thought to be. Also, she happens to be stunningly beautiful. However, there is no rational explanation as to why she is keeping 1984 by George Orwell covered in fish scales on her fish counter at the market where she meets Tikhon. A true mystery.

crimean bridgeThe film’s protagonist Dima Zadonskii is a tough, masculine construction worker. His affair with a beautiful archeologist Varya is one of the central plotlines. Dima keeps calling her “arkhitelka” (archeological chick), which is rude and abusive rather than romantic. Varya is shown at the excavation site only at the beginning of the movie. Later on, though, she tries to save the archeological site from a fire: the “hero” Dima throws away his cigarette in dry grass, and a few hours later a wildfire spreads across the fields. The episode most likely serves in the first instance as a reason for showing Varya topless on screen. Another scene reveals her connection with archeology, when Moscow-based PR agent Viktor Onegin gives her as a present a 6th-century scull. Beyond this, Varya is only shown hanging out in bars and enjoying the beach. A sensual masterpiece.

The dark-skinned archeologist Masha is also part of the archeological expedition. She found out she was pregnant from a man we never see and who apparently had sex with all the girls in the expedition. The macho constructor Dima calls her “chocolate” when he is choosing whom to have sex with. In the end Moscow-based Viktor fails in his attempts to go out with Varya and invites Masha to Botswana. Some good old racism.

crimean bridgeMeanwhile, Viktor is doing his best to promote the Bridge for the American TV crews, but fails here as well, as the Americans show the construction site of the Bridge in terms of “Potemkin villages,” meaning that it provides an excellent façade to make others to believe that the village is doing fine, but in reality there are a lot of problems behind that façade. But who would expect different conclusions from the Americans?

The storyline is shaped around the bridge and the various threads that take the audience to the happy ending are not original and barely fit the supposed rationale of the film’s narrative. For example, the two scenes involving the constructor Dima are astoundingly predictable. In the first scene, the airplane with the American journalists is about to crash but Dima, who is apparently a skilled pilot, takes control over the aircraft and saves everybody’s life by landing it safely on the Crimean Bridge. His second heroic deed occurs when Valek, one of the construction workers who is also Dima’s competitor at work, falls off the bridge. Dima jumps into the water, saves Valek, and somehow gets injured. A scene needed to make him a hero and help Varya to make her choice? Anyhow, the tension is just too much to handle.

The Crimean Bridge, like Aleksei Pimanov’s film Crimea (2017; see Anisimova 2018), were state funded; and both films received low ratings on IMDb and on the Russian film database KinoPoisk, where it comes among the ten worst movies of all times. Keosayan has been accused of receiving state subsidies without entering a competition; moreover, the film attracted the attention of the media and Aleksei Navalny’s Anti–Corruption Foundation (FBK), accusing Simonyan and Keosayan of using state funds for family business. Recent publications further reveal the sponsorship from the Bridge’s construction company (Levchenko 2020). Film critics have compared The Crimean Bridge to Soviet comedies about construction sites and collective farms. Indeed, this film is similarly accompanied by patriotic songs by the singer and composer “Trofim”, Sergei Trofimov. The critic Anton Dolin quite rightly defines the genre of the film as a romantic-patriotic comedy and argues for the influence of “cooperative cinema” of the 1990s (Dolin 2018). Do the characters of this romantic-patriotic comedy about sex, shock workers, and the Bridge represent the diversity of the Russian population? Or are they just unfortunate pawns in the game of constructing a national identity with the Bridge that connects Crimea and Russia? The answer might be even more simple: making a film about the Crimean Bridge was an opportunity to follow the cinematographic ambitions of the creators with full financial support from the state and under the pretext of the glorification of the Bridge, where quality is missing, but “social significance” is present. Maybe the Crimean Tatar boy Damir explained at the beginning of the movie why it should have been made: “So, it had to be.”

Anastasia Kriachko Røren,
University of Oslo

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Works Cited

Anisimova, Irina. 2018. “Aleksei Pimanov: Crimea (Krym, 2017).” KinoKultura 61.

Dolin, Anton. 2018. “Spiativshaia mashina vremeni. Anton Dolin o patrioticheskoi komedii ‘Krymskii most. Sdelano s liuboviu!’ po stsenariiu Margarity Simonian.” Meduza 1 November.

Levchenko, Grigorii. 2020. “FBK: Margarita Simon'ian i ee rodstvenniki poluchili 46 millionov rublei za fil'm ‘Krymskii Most’. Den'gi byli vydeleny iz biudzheta bez konkursa.” Meduza 24 March.

Rossiia 24. 2018. Krymskii most. Sdelano s liuboviu! Prem’era v Moskve-Rossiia 24.

Zhelnov, Anton and Natalia Sindeeva. 2018. “Ia noch'iu prosypaius' v kholodnom potu ot togo, chto ia podvedu rukovodstsvo.” Interview with Vladimir Medinskii. Dozhd 29 November.

The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love! Russia, 2018
Color, 102 minutes
Director: Tigran Keosayan
Scriptwriter: Margarita Simonyan
DoP: Igor’ Klebanov
Composer: Sergei Trofimov
Production Design: Aleksandr Zagoskin, Natal’ia Ivanova, Elena Prolubnikova
Editing: Igor Otdel’nov, Sergei Matveev, Andrei Osadchii, Anastasia Osadchaia
Cast: Aleksei Demidov, Katerina Shpitsa, Artem Tkachenko, Sergei Nikonenko, Iurii Stoianov, Irina Rozanova, Alena Khmelnitskaia, Sergei Gazarov, Dmitrii Kartashov, Elena Murav’eva, Egor Bakulin, Laura Keosayan, Aleksander Dmitr’ev, Kristina Kucherenko, Aleksandr Il’in, Larisa Malevannaia, Aleksandra Keosayan, Liza Martines-Kardenas, Sof’ia Zaika
Producer: David Keosayan, Iunona Glotova
Production: 8 Rows Film Studio, with the support of Cinema Fund
Distribution: Central Partnership

Tigran Keosayan: The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love! (Krymskii most. Sdelano s liuboviu! 2018)

reviewed by Anastasia Kriachko Røren © 2020

Updated: 2020