Issue 71 (2021)

Fedor Bondarchuk: Attraction 2. Invasion (Pritiazhenie 2: Vtorzhenie, 2019)

reviewed by Ian Garner © 2021

vtorzhenieInvasion (Vtorzhenie) is the sequel to Fedor Bondarchuk’s hit sci-fi drama Attraction (Pritiazhenie,2017). A return to the fantastic elements of the pair of Dark Planet (Neobitaemyi ostrov) films from the late 2000s after the epic World War 2 blockbuster Stalingrad (2013), Invasion proved another financial success for Bondarchuk on its release in January 2020. Although eagerly awaited by viewers before its release—the movie was heavily trailed, pushed on social media, and Bondarchuk and his lead actors appeared on major talk shows—the film received lukewarm reviews from critics and audiences alike. In spite of special effects that the Russian film industry could only dream of a decade ago, stellar performances from leading names such as Oleg Men’shikov and Sergei Garmash, and a brilliant turn from Aleksandr Petrov (star of Ice/Led, Ice 2/Led 2, and T-34), Invasion is a flawed and deeply political work. The movie is weighed down by its slavish imitation of Marvelesque tropes in the hunt for audience success, by a meandering plot that compares poorly to the playfulness of Attraction, and by Bondarchuk’s ambivalent relationship with state power. Attraction asks us to indulge in Hollywood fantasies about individuals’ power to change the world while replicating patriarchal and colonial trends in Russian culture.

vtorzhenie In Attraction, an alien spacecraft from a distant, utopian planet crashes into the deprived Moscow suburb of Chertanovo, killing several hundred residents. The ship’s pilot, Khekon (Mukhametov), a pacifist alien with the power to psychically control water, meets and grows close to local girl Iuliia (Starshenbaum). Outrage about the killing of Muscovites in the crash and social difficulties in Chertanovo lead to riots instigated by Iuliia’s on-off boyfriend (Petrov), a clash with Iuliia’s father (Men’shikov, playing a senior military figure), and the near-death of both Iuliia and Khekon. The film, a mash-up of teen drama and sci-fi thriller, was characterized both by impressive and engaging action scenes and playful references to sci-fi classics spanning Tarkovsky, Fifth Element and even Doctor Who. It even succeeded to some extent in commenting positively on growing anti-immigrant sentiment and social disorder in Moscow: an aim of both the writing team and Bondarchuk, who explained in a 2017 interview that Attraction sought to deal with “the eternal questions” of love, treachery, and “service to one’s motherland” in response to the director’s “worry over the growth of anger and aggression” in public and online (Gaikov 2017; [Bondarchuk] 2017). Casting Khekon as a pacifist character who refused to meet his enemies with violence was an inspired and, for a recent big budget sci-fi film, unusual move that suggested that “service to one’s motherland” did not necessitate hyperaggressive behavior.

vtorzhenieWhatever good work Bondarchuk achieved in this respect in Attraction, however, is undone in its sequel. Iuliia has now acquired Khekon’s power to move water, although she wrestles with her uncontrollable ability and is subjected to experiments by the military and her own father. Artem has gone half-mad while in jail. Khekon returns—apparently having secreted himself away in the Russian countryside—to protect Iulia from both the government’s special forces and from Ra, an AI-controlled spaceship intent on destroying Iuliia before her power wreaks havoc on the universe. Ra takes over humanity’s electronic communications networks, forcing Iuliia’s father and the Russian army to turn to old, analogue Soviet technologies to defend themselves, and threatens to drown the world in water. The Moscow public scapegoats Iuliia for the threat. Nevertheless, Iuliia and the army are able to destroy Ra in a lengthy and impressive action sequence. In the film’s coda, Iuliia’s father and Khekon smuggle the female protagonist to a hide-away in Kamchatka, far from the public eye.

vtorzhenie In Invasion, we see a transfer of power and agency from the marginalized and the peripheral toward the central. The action moves from Chertanovo, a poor area on the outskirts of Moscow, into the city’s centre. Apartments, car garages, and ramshackle classrooms make way for skyscrapers, hi-tech military bases, and the glitz of the downtown. This transposition is echoed on a cultural level. Attraction’s sole actor of color, Evgenii Sangadzhiev, is the only one of the leading cast members not to return. The references to Khekon’s alien qualities, encoded in nods to Rinal’ Mukhametov’s Caucasian roots such as his wearing a traditional papakha as he outwits the Moscow police, are gone. Instead, the character is Russified, striking up an informal partnership with Oleg Men’shikov’s character, who had now been promoted to general. When a peripheral space—Kamchatka—does appear, it symbolizes only distance from the center, Moscow: the province is used to hide Moscow’s new and secret alien weapon, and therefore exists solely as a counterpart to dominant central power. Of particular note is the diminished role for Iuliia in this movie. Subjugated by her uncontrollable newfound powers and saved variously by her father, by Khekon, and by Artem, she seems to possess no agency of her own. Instead, she either remains mute or falls into a frenzied emotional state, reiterating regressive, patriarchal visions of subordinate and hysterical women.

vtorzhenieAttraction centered generally on questions of humanity and—albeit treading a fine line—managed to evade the suggestion that individuals are powerless without the state. Vtorzhenie finds Russia initially alone, sanctioned apparently because of its refusal to admit foreign experts to research Khekon’s alien technology, and then at the head of a coalition with China and the United States. In the earlier movie, a group of friends and family were under attack; in the new production, Russia itself—and the world—is under attack. The action moves from the personal and intimate into the realms of the (supra)national. Bondarchuk’s answers to the twin challenges supposedly posed by social media and by outsiders revolve around fantasies of Russian state power turning to Soviet-era technology to lead humanity through eschatological events (a theme that also ran through Bondarchuk’s last directorial effort, Stalingrad). If Khekon is Russified in this sequel, then Russification means becoming more violent: the pacifist is shown in a number of scenes, expertly and violently destroying his enemies with weapons and with his own body. Invasion is not about humanity, or “eternal questions.” It plays to domestic politics and to Russia’s post-Soviet role as peripheral to European and American power while also the dominant power in the space of the former USSR, while echoing an increasingly patriarchal state culture in which women are made silent and men made violent. It is no surprise to learn that the Russian Ministry of Defence assisted in the production of the movie.

In some ways, Invasion reflects Bondarchuk’s career: on the one hand, he is capable of sensitive, insightful work. At times, he achieves this with thoughtful, sensitive direction, and the pairing of epic themes and big budgets with humanistic touches—arguably, this is where Attraction lands. Yet on the other hand, Bondarchuk always cleaves to the nationalistic and the patriotic, working with and on behalf of the Putin regime—a regime that, in its behavior toward immigrants, women, and other nationalities is inherently violent—to further official cultural politics. Invasion replicates the state’s goals and narratives: Bondarchuk is himself in this respect engaged in “service to [his] motherland.” And in this respect, Bondarchuk’s oeuvre recalls the internal battles of Soviet official writers—men like Konstantin Simonov and Ilya Ehrenburg, for example—who struggled with similar conflicting demands of conscience and officialdom. While Invasion is a mildly entertaining, big budget fantasy, it should be read in this light as a refraction of Bondarchuk’s directorial catalogue. The film, like the director’s career as a whole, fails to resolve a number of internal ethical conflicts. The longer Bondarchuk pursues this contorted path, the more I will argue that the director—who has produced thoughtful, stimulating and intriguing box office hits—deserves a critical biography that explores these tensions in detail.

Ian Garner
Queen’s University, Ontario

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Works Cited

[Bondarchuk] 2017. “Bondarchuk o ‘Pritiazhenii’: ia snimal kino pro vechnye voprosy. Rossiia 24. 22 January.

Gaikov, Pavel. 2017. “Chertanovo i ego ‘Pritiazhenie’: po mestam s’’emok Bondarchuka. RIA Novosti.

Invasion, Russia, 2019
Color, 129 minutes
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Scriptwriters: Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev
DoP: Vladislav Opel’iants
Production Design: Andrei Ponkratov, Tat'iana Dolmatovskaia
Music: Igor’ Vdovin
Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Rinal' Mukhametov, Oleg Men'shikov, Aleksandr Petrov, Sergei Garmash, Iura Borisov,
Producers: Fedor Bondarchuk, Dmitrii Rudovskii, Mikhail Vrubel', Aleksandr Andriushchenko, Anton Zlatopol'skii
Production: Art Pictures Studio, Vodorod
Release Date: 1 January 2020

Fedor Bondarchuk: Attraction 2. Invasion (Pritiazhenie 2: Vtorzhenie, 2019)

reviewed by Ian Garner © 2021

Updated: 2021