Identification of Cliché
Antonioni, Taviani, Wenders… The Identification of Wishes, director T.Hamidov’s movie, is obviously made for people who know cinema. Quotations from famous directors’ classic films (slow plot development, psychological pauses, etc.) are spread among pseudo art-house movies.
The story – about three teenagers who, learning that a friend’s mother works as a prostitute at night, decide to “visit her” – in presented, for the most part, naturalistically. The people, though not convincing, are sufficiently developed to show Hamidov’s thoughts about the necessity of moral borderlines… which the characters don’t have, and which lack marks them inhuman. Yet there’s not much kick to the film, no discovery. Instead of postmodern stylization, it as dull collection of clichés. Hamidov doesn’t seem to have prospects.
Though He is Clever and Handsome
Petersburg’s atmosphere seems to create in movie critics and cinema scientists the wish to show directors how real films must be made – not only in theoretical articles but on the set. Following O.Kovalov (The Gardens of the Scorpion, Island of the Dead), another Russian film critic in St-Peterburg – Y.Pavlov – has decided to try his hand at directing.
Pavlov’s philosophical The Creation of Adam can be regarded as you please, but to my mind it has one great advantage. The film is beautifully made. In its world are yellow sandhills, the play of Baltic waves, the deserted streets of Petersburg’s outskirts, the fashionable costumes of the main characters… shots that seem to belong in a picture gallery.
Unfortunately, for me, this is the only attractive aspect of the film, because the story – of a handsome, 30-year-old homosexual who finds clarity in life and love after meeting an effeminate guardian angel – left me indifferent. The fashionable Gay theme evoked only weak surprise because the characters didn’t invite a sharing of emotions with them, while the slow development of action reminded me of Wim Wenders’ late films and brought boredom. I can watch the “slow” films of Michelangelo Antonioni for hours, charmed again and again by the silent pauses of L’Avventura, La Notte or L’Eclisse, so my dislike of The Creation of Adam is not due to its pace and cautionary plot, but to a serious discrepancy between its author’s perception of film and the aesthetic preferences of this spectator.
It happens sometimes in life: you meet a man who is dressed with taste and seems to be clever, but it’s boring to speak with him. Antipathy arises in a moment… sometimes at first sight. The same holds true for films; you watch some with pleasure, you can’t wait for others to end.
It was bad luck for me to see The Creation of Adam. This is not my cinema, this is the cinema of Y.Pavlov, corresponding to his ideas of how stylish directors’ films should look.
Red Riding Hood & Bluebeard
Despite its trendy modern-Mafia story, A.Chechulin film A Wife for the Maitre d’Hotel is in fact a free fantasy on the theme of two famous fairytales by Charles Perrot.
A young, really naïve beauty (A.Nemolyaeva), though foolishness and the effects of alcohol, finds herself in the room of a professional maitre d’hotel – a University graduate who knows eight languages. He spends the night with her and, untrue to stereotype, proposes to her. That’s the point where the story of Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf turns into the story of Bluebeard. Showering his wife with presents, luxurious outfits and awesome travel tours, the intellectual maitre demands only one thing: that she not interfere with his criminal deeds. But, of course, the temptation is too powerful, and she has secret affairs with her husband’s best friends – a gangster and cop – whom he cold-bloodedly kills when he learns the truth.
You say in the original tales Bluebeard killed non his wives’s lovers, but the overly curious ladies themselves? But that’s Chechulin’s fantasy, modernizing Perrot. His finale follows suit: disappointed in her husband, our heroine returns to her mother’s house and… becomes a prostitute.
So it’s better to go into the streets than to live with a loveless husband! If only this idea had been presented to us as humorous parody. But Chechulin just retells Perrot’s story using the language of Emile Zola.
V.Bogachev’s Dark Alleys is based on the novels of Ivan Bunin, classic of Russian literature. The best thing about the film is the duet of actors O.Bogacheva and D.Lubshin – she with the slightly mocking eyes, he with the shyness of a tutor-student, both in their days of transient happiness, all shown with appropriate respect for the Nobel Laureate’s work and a will to re-create the atmosphere of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.
Episodes framing the dramatic story, however, turn out badly. Roughly naturalistic, reformed with extreme theatricality, they resemble the tricks of a roving street circus. You don’t believe these characters could be related to the Russian elite of Nikolai II’s epoch.
It’s hard for today’s filmmakers to get rid of the post-Soviet outlook and create anything slightly resembling the images of Bunin’s heroes. Dark Alleys is another unrealized attempt to relinquish the Russian “cinema of gloom” for the beautiful world of passionate love evoked by classic literature.
How to Shoot the “True” Film About Russia (Ironical instruction for Western cineastes)
As a member of the Union of Russian Cineastes, I've worked up a set of brief instructions for Western producers, writers and directors who want to make «true film about Russian life»:
Say you're basing your movie on a Russian story.
Give the leading male positive role to an actor with a «manly» appearance.
To show his endless attraction to Russian nature, church and children. Have him mouth deep psychological thoughts about «the essence of being».
Make the principal Bad Guy look nasty with uncommon eyebrows and a curly black wig. His residence must have foreign posters on its flat-painted walls and Cosmopolitan magazine on the table. He should show an eager desire to run off over the border, visit underground clubs, make fun of Russian boldness and - the main thing - have an affair with another's Slavic wife.
It's necessary for the heroine not only to show a bright Russian manner but wardrobe to match... such as big «sarafan»(a female costume in old Russia). She can have her weaknesses, certainly, as does everyone. Even commit adultery. None of it is her fault, however; she is simply a victim of the Mafia.
Between the Bad and Good Guys of a True Film about Russia you can't omit the «intermediate link»: one hesitating character - an alcoholic doctor, for example - who is torn between Good and Evil.
For the creation of action tension it's okay to use: explosion of secret laboratory; a car accident; stripteases in rock club, and location footage in Paris.
Photographically, a Fine Arts representation must be made through poetic contrast: milky fog drifting over green fields and a pensive cow will definitely underline the alienation evoked in the Russian soul by your images of the cold shine of Western skyscrapers, luxurious shops and bottles of White horse (more suggestive of deceitful, negative characters than Stolichnaya vodka).
If, seeing the end result, critics and some spectators are indignant over the primitive drama, dialogue and performances, and the director's pretentious amateurism, they should be rebutted by special advertisements in the mass newspapers and TV-channels.
If that doesn't work, than the last advice is simple as everything that's brilliant: declare publicly (preferably on TV) that your film can be understood and appreciated only by True Lovers of True Russian Culture.
9.10. The Program of Media Education Course for University Students
This work was supported by the Research Support Scheme of the Open Society Support Foundation, grant N 18/2000