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Kira Muratova is a Moldovan-born Russian filmmaker working in Ukraine. Her Russian-language film, VTOROSTEPENNIYE LYUDI (SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS), reached Moscow in Spring 2002 after a bumpy release history.
The film's world premiere at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival was slapdash due to Muratova's failure to have the film adequately prepared for the festival. In typical Slavic slacker fashion, the premiere copy was printed at the lab in the nick of time, and so there was no time left to subtitle the print - it had to be shipped to Berlin immediately. Without the benefit of subtitles for the international audience in Berlin, the film was consequently virtually ignored; however, the film did win the FIPRESCI Prize at the Kinotavr Festival, Russia's Sochi-based knock-off of Cannes.
The movie examines the lives of the not-so-fortunate dregs of society through airy but uneven absurdist comedy. The unfortunates of the title are mentally challenged people, some of whom could be termed insane - or merely inane.
VTOROSTEPENNIYE LYUDI was written by Sergei Chetvertkov. He also plays a role in this film, and his endearing turn as an amiable, kindly doctor is one of the best things about it. He goes on a house call to the home of Vera, a woman whose hated drunkard of a husband has just died after an accident in which he received a blow to the head. Vera is played by by Natalya Buzko in an annoyingly monotonous performance. The doctor tries to revive the man unsuccessfully and is wooed by the desperate woman. He resists her advances, and tries to resolve her predicament.
Unfortunately, Chetvertkov's character disappears about 20 minutes into the film, never to return. The film becomes noticeably tedious after his exit. The remaining story focuses on Vera's efforts to dispose of the body, which leads her into the company of assorted weirdos and mental cases and eventually takes her to the airport.
Muratova does a good job of evoking a bizarre, somewhat visually stylish atmosphere in the opening scenes, but the film is sloppy, anemic and loses its thrust too quickly in the middle. The denouement, on Vera's second trip to the airport, contains a startling revelation that shows up the senselessness of everything that came before, making for a slightly more vigorous finish.
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