Today we enjoy the kick-off of Russian Film Symposium 2018, presented by the University of Pittsburgh. Doc has the good fortune to be on hand to watch what promises to be a dozen challenging films released in the last few years. The films are attended by a number of students (studying Russian language and/or cinematography) and a number of guests from around the world – film critics and scholars who, over the coming week, will help us get to know the films as intimately as possible.
The films are presented with a 15-20 minute introduction by one of the guests, providing a bit of background on the film’s cultural, political, and cinematic context, as well as a few biographical notes about the director. After the screening, there is a round table discussion on what the themes we feel the director was offering, how they were handled, and generally, what we felt about the movie from top to bottom. I will be offering a review of each movie, and at times I may dip into the notes I take in the discussions prior to and after the film. If there are parts of the reviews that you really connect with and like, that’s all me. If there’s something in the review you find distasteful or way off the mark, that’s probably some group of rascals that felt inclined to stuff their words into my head. Don’t blame me.
Today’s first film of two was “All Will Soon End” (Скоро все кончится), also translated as “All Will End Soon”. Doc would have translated it a bit more casually – “It’ll All Be Over With Soon” but what does Doc know?
The film centers around a St Petersburg factory lathe operator, Misha Nosov (Mikhail Sivorin), a Chelyabinsk transplant whose sole purpose in life is to work, drink, and be absorbed by the news of the increasing hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in the Donetsk and Donbass regions. He also apparently has taken to visiting the local brothel, where he hires the services of a woman who calls herself Diana (Ksenia Skakun). What initially becomes nothing more than a push towards relieving his primal urges with a real live human being slowly evolves into what might be a growing affection on Misha’s part. Not satisfied with an hour’s romp in Diana’s black-light-lit room, he begins to “rent” her for overnight stays at his apartment, then graduating for an entire week at a time – however, these trysts are no longer strictly about sex, but about seeing her as a human being instead of a plaything or sex toy. Still, while he’s out at work, he expects Diana to perform other roles, that of housewife and girlfriend – do the shopping, make lunch and dinner, go to a concert – you get the feeling that he is trying to mold her into something beyond a hooker, but is it for her sake or for his? Neither option is really anything Diana is interested in. She knows that he sees her as a commodity, and little else, regardless of what she is to do for him – at the end of the day, she sees herself as little more than his plaything. Throw into the mix a seemingly disinterested pimp (Ivan Batarev) who seems to be a menacing presence in this couple’s erstwhile affair, and there’s plenty of angst to keep you on the edge of your seat.
In addition to that chunk of plot, we also see two more generations of workers at the factory – Lebedev, Misha’s pal and “older brother” who is just as able a worker as Misha but can’t muster up the interest in actually performing the work, and Pavel, the foreman, who appreciates the level of work Misha is capable of doing, and offers Misha a nice piece of the action on an important order. Misha is the only bachelor of the three, and seems to enjoy hearing the woes of married life that the others grouse on about. Lebedev and Pavel have a slightly abrasive relationship – Lebedev lobs criticisms at Pavel’s apparent desire to return to Soviet-type tactics in working the factory, and when offense is taken, Lebedev laughs them off as merely good-natured jokes, that Pavel should lighten up.
Meanwhile, almost on a 24-hour cycle, the news of Russian and Ukrainian hostilities play out on Misha’s TV and computer – the rooms are almost constantly being shown through the blue light of electronic screens, while the dialogue is on a near-loop – we hear the same statistics, or similar ones, thrown about casually, along with the same blather about how to live through the pending sanctions. The war in eastern Ukraine is often a topic between the three factory men as well; Lebedev hails from Ukraine and sympathizes with the inhabitants of that country, whereas Pavel is very much old-school pro-Russian – although his son has taken to speaking out against the Russian Federation government and its actions in the invasion of Donbass and Donetsk. Misha simply absorbs the information, delivered seemingly non-stop. When challenged by Pavel that he surely must be pro-Russian, he replies: “I’m from Chelyabinsk. The Urals isn’t Russia.”
The news feed eventually becomes a flash point between Misha and Diana, resulting in a scene of uncharacteristic savagery that is, in my opinion, the film’s biggest weak point. No spoilers, but the scene in question, and how it eventually evolved, was utterly unrealistic and an insult to the audience, not to mention the characters themselves, excellently portrayed up to that point.
Ultimately, we have a film about fraternity – братство. While more screen time is given to Diana’s character than to the other men in the film, the actual focus of Misha’s motivations are the result of how he explores and navigates the social bonds, even caustic bonds, with the other males. Even when Diana has an inadvertent revelation toward the end of the film, Misha feels nothing on how it impacts his relationship with her, but he does reach out and offer a nod to a new-found brother.
The film’s writer and director, Aleksey Rybin (his directorial debut), once said that the film is a reflection of the ongoing political situation between Russia and Ukraine. I would argue that the brotherhood explored between the men in the film could serve as a mirror for that of the two sides fighting. It’s a nod to both sides, whether right or wrong, through the haze of war; at the end of the day, we are all brothers. We can only hope it’ll all be over with soon.
Doc offers this Rybin directorial debut a pretty solid B-. Lots to enjoy here, but more than a few missteps that really left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. If nothing else, it will keep me thinking for some time, something most filmmakers hope to achieve.