Issue 69 (2020)

Yang Ge: Trinity Sunday (Troitsa, 2019)

reviewed by Elise Thorsen © 2020

troitsa In its trailer, Trinity Sunday promises a woman-centered plot, beautiful arrangements of people in space—and a little productive confusion about the exact world that Chinese-Russian director Yang Ge is drawing us into. Ge’s 2018 directorial debut Nu suggests it will be somewhere that challenges boundaries. Ge’s appearance as the protagonist Margo summons further associations with a variety of other appearances in the past decade. Trained as a film actor in Sergei Solov’ev’s workshop at the Film Institute VGIK, Yang Ge chiefly appeared in minor roles in blockbusters; on stage, she is recognizable as a company member of Kirill Serebrennikov’s avant-garde Gogol Center; and then on television, she is notable as a flamboyant finalist on Dima Bilan’s team on the musical competition show The Voice Russia. Professionalism and an appreciation for striking stagecraft deliver over the course of Yang Ge’s second film.

troitsaThe name Trinity Sunday cues the viewer to watch for trinities in the film plot and language. Such a condition is readily met: it is, after all, a film about a love triangle between the young woman Margo, her husband George, and her lover Anton. They all affiliate with a university that has brought them together from beyond Russia’s borders: George as docent or professor, Margo as a Chinese language instructor, and Anton as a student—differences in rank that greatly affect their material circumstances. Race is deliberately used to define Margo’s choice. Margo is Chinese, while George is white and Anton is brown-skinned. George’s first words on hearing of their affair are “That black guy?!” not subtly implying that the affair is transgressive in many ways (Anton is also Margo’s student).

troitsa Each character is strongly associated with discrete sets of spaces. George’s apartment is well-appointed and immense, with the impression of expanse magnified by a large window looking out on the city and several mirrors, which frequently capture an imposing black cross. Visually, it mirrors the open interior of George’s church. Anton is associated with cramped, though luminous, spaces filled out with the trappings of a sensual, beautiful life—food, wine, paintings, and sculptures—but they do not have amenities like showers and Anton does not have personal control over who occupies these spaces, leaving Margo intermittently homeless. In contrast to the two men, Margo is tied to transitional spaces, public transit and park promenades, but also to a virtual Chinese space that intrudes periodically on the action in clips of older Asian women and a mahjong game, figures of fate (Kolenskii 2019). This space eventually sees further development when Margo visits her mother and a Buddhist temple in China (or “visits” her mother, as her lack of money to support herself is a recurrent theme and her mother’s repetition of George’s affectionate address of “princess” suggest this is a journey of the mind as Margo seeks a moral touchstone before she descends further into a winding sequence that is more recognizably a dream).

troitsa In a final triad of contrasts among the three protagonists, expressive modes, George is definitively associated with the written word—he references scripture and his handwriting is seen multiple times on screen, and he has the power to erase the written language of others, deleting Anton’s texts—while Anton is identified with figurative art. Margo’s mode of expression occupies a tricky space: the tonality she describes that discerns between nĭ (you) and ní (garbage, sludge, a clarification recalling interposed shots of Margo standing in a littered landscape). As the dialogue-free and inscrutable glimpses into her interior state suggest, though, those important tonal nuances require connecting with other phonemes to acquire meaning.

troitsaThis emphasis on the tone, meaning-granting but meaningless by itself, “inaudible” to untrained, non-Chinese ears, appears to be part of Ge’s work to set up a cinematic realization of the alternative trinity suggested by the Catholic priest whom George and Margo visit for marital advice: husband, wife, and God’s love sanctifying their love. Elements of the cinematography reinforce this slippery third space. Take, for example, the director’s use of dubbing, with the actors repeating in often accented Russian over what they originally said in English, consistently enforcing the presence of two languages in one space, neither of which belongs to that space. The effect of dislocation this has on the film’s aesthetic is reinforced by the ambiguity of the physical setting, which is shot in Russia, China, Germany, and France (Ostasheva 2019). The film is set in Moscow, but the visual language of the spaces reflects no traces of twentieth-century Russian everyday life—in an interview, Ge notes that these expats are “hermetically sealed” off from greater Moscow by their foreignness and forced to rely on each other (Kolenskii 2019). Apart from the prominent landmark of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, little identifies the city. Ge pushes this disorienting space to its limits in a final dreamy dance scene that initiates a final panicked sequence that culminates in the real, identifiable space of the Cathedral. In connection with this scene, it is worth mentioning that the music is identifiably Soviet, as an array of poppy VIA songs rearranged by the Lithuanian composer Vlad Nastavshev.

troitsaThe promotional materials of the film suggest that the major conflict in the film is between Margo’s desires, articulated by a fashionable psychologist, and Margo’s conscience, articulated by the Catholic priest. They also state that the characters mutually torture one another. To be frank, however, the torture seems to have a single locus—George both torments and infantilizes Margo and drives himself into a lurid breakdown after he has lost all his ability to control Margo’s choices. In a sense, overidentification with George is difficult to avoid due to his aforementioned faculty with language—we are, for example, privy to his irritation at the psychologist, which wrenches the audience from a sympathy that had been built through the camerawork of the initial scenes, which depicted the clear chemistry of Margo’s love affair and stuck closely to Margo’s point of view in her confession to George. While powerful at drawing attention to George, his dogmatic logic never quite lands in its claims on Margo’s “conscience,” which perhaps requires either extra-cinematic commitment to the power of the cross or a commitment to elevating pathetic masculine suffering over other kinds of suffering. Despite the failure of this treatment of George’s psychology to land for a reviewer who is admittedly not necessarily the target audience, Trinity Sunday is a thoughtful exploration of the film language of in-betweenness and every individual’s attempts to negotiate that position.

Elise Thorsen
Independent Scholar

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Works Cited

Kolenskii, Aleksei. 2019. “Ian Ge: ‘V “Troitse” vse zhertvy i kazhdyi—Spasitel′.’” Interview with Yang Ge.Gazeta Kultura, 23 October.

Ostasheva, Dar′ia. 2019. “Ian Ge: ‘Nazvanie fil′ma ‘Troitsa’—simvolichno.” Interview with Yang Ge. ProfiCinema, 5 June.

Trinity Sunday, Russia, 2019
Color, 81 minutes
Director: Yang Ge
Scriptwriter: Greta Šuščevičiūtė, Yang Ge
Director of Photography: Maria Androsova
Editor: Ekaterina Pianykh
Production Designer: Margarita Ablaeva
Music: Vlad Nastavshev
Cast: Yang Ge, Georgii Blikshtein, Andrei Kurganov, Odin Lund Biron, Travis Lee Bailey, Daniel Barnes
Producer: Ol’ga Lesnova, Ekaterina Kononenko
Production: Maze Films, Versus Pictures

Yang Ge: Trinity Sunday (Troitsa, 2019)

reviewed by Elise Thorsen © 2020

Updated: 2020