Issue 71 (2021)

Anna Melikian: Fairy (Feya, 2020)

reviewed by Susanna Weygandt © 2021

feyaThe 2020 film Fairy (Feya) takes place in contemporary Moscow. A visionary designer, Evgenii Voigin (Konstantin Khabenskii), has created his own company that produces virtual reality equipment and video games, and through the success of his company he has grown increasingly accustomed to manipulating and controlling what he can in the world around him. The film’s director Anna Melikian also directed Mermaid (Rusalka) in 2007. Fairy and Mermaid are both filmed depictions of modern-day fairy tales. In Fairy, successful and preoccupied Evgenii meets, by chance, an animal and human rights activist, Tanya, when she flees a protest site as police arrive on the scene of her group’s aktsiia. Caught up in the creation of the country’s “best video game,” he is out of touch with some of the best things that real life has to offer: family, love, and friendship. The light, enchanted, and humble but brave Tanya, whom Evgenii nicknames Feya (she is played by Ekaterina Ageeva), for fairy, gradually illuminates these things for Evgenii, while serving to repair the disconnect between Evgenii and his daughter, Masha, who won’t speak to him or to anyone. Thus, Feya plays the role of savior and muse. In the film Mermaid, an equally overly-worked and lonely, single entrepreneur, Sasha, who sells real estate on the moon, meets by chance Alisa on a night when she saves his life through her extrasensory powers. Thereafter the humble and brave Alisa also becomes Sasha’s muse as she leads him to discovering happiness in life. Romance develops between them in the modern-day fairy-tale film Mermaid. But Mermaid ends by Alisa sacrificing her life for save Sasha. She comes back to life reincarnated in the body of a beautiful woman who dates Sasha. Fairy-tale storylines and themes of reincarnation also shape the film Fairy, making it reflect Melikian’s style, which she uses to bring a sense of wonderment and hope to contemporary Moscow that is often portrayed in film as a competitive and chaotic place. Through Evgenii’s meetings with Feya, she opens his eyes to other sides of Moscow and the world, history, and art.

feya After their spontaneous encounter, when Feya ducks into Evgenii’s unlocked car to escape the police after her animal-rights protest, during which Feya wore a nude-colored body suit smeared with fake blood, Evgenii reluctantly brings her to his office where she can have tea and put on some warm clothes. Shortly after, Evgenii offers her work for his company. Her face becomes the model for the action heroine in his video game. At the company’s studio she practices with Kinect cameras, which use digital technology to record her movements that can then be replicated in gaming software. Feya lives with a group of young women who often plan protests for various human rights issues. Agile and spritely, yet quiet, delicate, and sensitive, Feya does not completely fit in with the group of protesters. Evgenii also has a complex role. On the one hand, he can be considered an outsider as his profession revolves around the construction of a virtual-reality game. With the weight of a whole company on his shoulders, he nevertheless is kind to his employees and motivates them, yet he rarely reveals anything about his emotions or personal life and where he can, he remains controlling of the immediate world surrounding him, most likely as a reflex of his profession. He is too recluse to be bossy. Outside of this work, Evgenii’s access to a social environmental is mainly in nightclubs. His adolescent daughter, Masha, who has refused to speak after Evgenii divorced his wife, remains a riddle to him. Silenced out of revolt against the adult world, Masha resembles the young Alisa in Mermaid. Evgenii is filmed always in a black baseball cap and framed glasses. In a recent interview with Iurii Dud’, Khabenskii shared how he always has an “instrument” when he is acting: a prop, cigarette, or part of a costume which he uses to create his role. Here Khabenskii uses the cap and glasses as a way to let his character retreat into an inner world and also to mask or protect him from the harm of the outer, real world.

feya Russian religious artwork becomes Evgenii’s focus as the main inspiration for the art of his company’s best-selling video game. On occasion Evgenii and Feya venture outside of Moscow to search for icons and monasteries in Vladimir and Yaroslavl and to photograph them for use in the game. One subplot of the film gradually develops around a mystery presented as Evgenii’s past life. Feya plants the idea in Evgenii’s head that he is Andrei Rublev reincarnated, or at least she wants him to believe that as a way for him to gain inspiration and have a newfound interest in nature, spirituality, and art, and the world outside of his company’s video game, which is increasingly becoming entangled in political problems.

feyaEvgenii appeals to some news media sources to advertise his game and when interviewed, explains to the media that virtual reality can be regarded as beneficial to society. He explains the dialectic between being online and offline as ultimately creating a pacifying structure. According to Evgenii, “People are struggling today. If for instance, one loses a job and has financial difficulty, one gets depressed. It turns into aggression. People take aggression to the street and they protest. But if they stay online, then their aggression can be channeled into the game. All they need is a chair and a table.” Evgenii’s game is played by hundreds of thousands of people in Russia. At one point in the film, Evgenii describes himself as the founder of “the best computer game in the country.” His company invites the most successful gamer, a young man called Aleksei, to the office one day to celebrate the victories he has had online. It is only later that Evgenii learns that Aleksei is connected to a fascist movement in real life. Aleksei was involved in a gang killing of a young man whom his gang thought was homosexual. Soon after, an investigator comes to Evgenii’s company to explain that while hundreds of thousands are playing his game, many are actually taking to the streets to kill as a result of the influence of violence from the game.

feyaEvgenii rides the metro home late one night and notices a swastika tattoo on the back of the head of young man who passed by him. Evgenii follows him onto a carriage. The young man begins to attack a dark-skinned passenger. Evgenii tries to break up the fight. The young man’s gang enters the carriage and beats up Evgenii. Police come to the scene, and next Evgenii is in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

By the end of the film, political undercurrents come to the surface in the way they conflict with one another. Feya’s circle of friends have been creating protests to protect human rights, yet often activists are labeled as threats to Russia’s traditional values, such as religion and the nuclear family. At the end of the film, it is suggested that spirituality and religion emerge as the sound of reason and truth. Feya misses a protest because she is entranced by icons at the Tretyakov Gallery. Staring at the icons, she understands that the only thing that will save Evgenii is for her to find his daughter, Masha, and bring her to him in the hospital. It is at the intensive care unit, at the foot of her father’s bed, that for the first time in years Masha speaks. Whether this film is ultimately a fairy tale with a happy ending should be left to each viewer of this ambitious and timely film.

Susanna Weygandt,
Sewanee: The University of the South

Comment on this article on Facebook

Fairy, Russia, 2019
Color, 152 minutes
Director and Scriptwriter: Anna Melikian
DoP Anatolii Maika
Composer: Kirill Rikhter
Production Design: Ekaterina Dzhagarova, Anna Chistova
Cast: Konstantin Khabenskii, Ekaterina Ageeva, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Nikita Elenev, Aleksandra Dishdishian, Tinatin Dalakishvili, Maria Shalaeva, Vladimir Mishukov, Iura Borisov
Producer: Anna Melikian, Valerii Fedorovich, Valeriia Kozlovskaia
Production: Magnum
Release 1 August 2020 (Kinopoisk)

Anna Melikian: Fairy (Feya, 2020)

reviewed by Susanna Weygandt © 2021

Updated: 2021