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A failed experiment, from the improbable to the impossible.
If you like Mahler's music and have read something about his life, then this film is unlikely to meet your expectations.
I found it to be an awkward collection of badly stitched together, largely badly acted parodies, improbable events and dialogues. The actor playing Mahler does make a brave effort, even though the script would have him looking extremely young and healthy even when dying, and behaving rudely much of the time. But for the rest... Alma Mahler looks wanton and superficial, and physically not at all like Alma Mahler. Mahler's father looks just embarrassing, with many other characters being a collection of freaks. Give this a good coating of 1970s dubious experimental ideas and listen to the shrill recording on the DVD, and you are done.
Envy of love
A simple story. Viktor and Sergei become friends while doing the military service. An accident happens and Sergei dies. At the end of service, Viktor does not feel like returning to his village (for reasons that become known later in the film) but goes instead to visit his dead friend's mother, Vera, who lives alone in a hamlet. Despite the age difference, Viktor falls in love with Vera. As Vera warns Viktor, villagers are quite nosy, and do not like strangers. Thus, the relationship between Viktor and Vera quickly meets with condemnation and brutal hostility.
A very honest and touching film, depicting the obstacles intergenerational love faces, and the cruelty envy of love can lead to.
Very good acting portraying feelings and emotions with few words and silence by the main characters Lidya Velezheva, Stanislav Bondarenko and Vitalii Khaev.
Another excellent Russian film that could potentially be appreciated worldwide, were it not for the usual language and commercial barriers.
Pro lyubov (2015)
What is love?
According to a lecture on love and the biology of love in central Moscow, love is just a dopamine-induced temporary suspension of rational thinking that lasts for maximum 30 months if you are lucky. This lecture on love is the hub where 5 rather unusual short love stories crisscross, each suggesting a different answer to the love quest.
A very refreshing, light-humoured dynamic film. Formats and ideas keep changing, some kind of filming experiment that, in my view, worked out quite well. Apparent lightness behind which there is clear craft in filming.
Modern ideas about love in an upbeat modern Moscow. Love and illusion sometimes clashing with tough reality.
Good music throughout the film. Excellent acting by several characters.
Ya budu ryadom (2012)
A lesson in life
Young single mother Inna has a very good relationship with her 5-year old son Mitya, full of love and laughter. Things take a turn for the worse when she starts experimenting odd medical symptoms and soon afterward learns that she has little time left to live. Rather than becoming sulky and depressed because of the debilitating disease and growing pain that quickly isolate her from the world around her, Inna goes in search of foster parents for her son, while continuing laughing whenever she has a chance.
A truly moving story of generosity, love and courage.
Do not be put off by the sad subject. The film director, the script, and the wonderful acting by everyone, from the main to the secondary characters, get everything right. Nothing overwhelming, nothing fake or overly dramatic, just light touches that convey what the experience is like in a truthful and caring manner.
A massive achievement with a difficult subject. Big bow and thanks to all involved.
On love and loss
A family with two pre-teen children go to spend some days in the isolated country house where the father was born and raised. The first hours are spent bringing the house back to a minimum of working order, with the children spending much of their time outside in the garden, as children do. And then, in the evening, after dinner, when the children have gone to bed and the adults sit on the terrace on their own, the wife tells her husband something very short and simple that will overhaul his life and set the mood for the rest of the film.
Those looking for easy entertainment, better look elsewhere. The first simple and bleak images and the music already let you know that this is not going to be a relaxing experience. There is tension from the beginning, and it is there to stay until the end.
This is beautiful, artful cinema making, of the kind that requires spectators to approach it with their emotions and an open mind.
Perhaps demanding cinema. Though not overly intellectual (the story is, in some ways, quite a simple one), it contains powerful undercurrents that are not obvious until the very end. Like most good films, you will get more out of this watching it more than once.
Astounding acting by the three main actors. The range of feelings displayed by actors Konstantin Lavronenko and Maria Bonnevie as the married couple and by Aleksandr Baluev (Konstantin's brother in the film and perhaps alter ego) is breathtaking. Bonnevie looks totally natural, even if dubbed, chapeau to her. Lavronenko deservedly got Canne's Best Actor prize in 2007 for his role in this film.
Zvyagintsev's craft, as shown by his other films, is felt from beginning to end, with exquisite attention paid to detail, light, colour, shadows, filming locations.
As with good art, everyone will get something different out of this film. Leaving aside some possible religious or spiritual connotations, I take it that this film contains a reflection on love and the absence of it, about sharing and its limits, that can speak to very wide audiences, irrespective of time and location.
Liniya Marty (2014)
St. Petersburg, its recent past and its present.
Following a recent divorce, and still with a broken heart and nerves on edge, Olga and her hypersensitive teenager daughter Natasha move into an old flat in central St. Petersburg. While renovating the flat they find a message on a wall from a boy to a girl he loved, Marta, from 1942, from the time of the siege of Leningrad. Olga and Natasha set out to find Marta together and in this adventure they are accompanied by Maksim, a successful entrepreneur who is soon taken by Olga while having doubts about his own marriage. The search starts by trying to locate all the surviving women in St. Petersburg called Marta. The search for Marta turns into a journey of personal discovery for all those involved.
A patriotic, largely feel-good series. A brave attempt to revisit in 2014 the siege or blockade of Leningrad, seen with modern eyes, including those of a child who at first, and understandably, is not interested in it. In this, the series clearly succeeds.
However, I find a few weaknesses in this series. The flashbacks to 1942 mostly do not work, they seem too staged. Some of the dialogues are quite good, while others seem contrived, and some of the playing lacking in spontaneity. This results in a somewhat disjointed, often predictable narrative, with varying artistic value.
I was most impressed by the acting of the secondary characters, for the most part very well- known actors. Some of their acting is quite moving, and rings more true than other parts of the film, perhaps because their stories, which sit quite naturally in the film, are partly autobiographical, i.e. people who lived through WWII and went through similar experiences as the ones they retell.
Well worth watching.
Ottsy i deti (2008)
Excellent, emotional adaptation of Turgenev
An impeccable and very touching adaptation of one of Turgenev's great novels, with powerful insights into human psychology. This film follows the novel quite closely, and successfully manages to capture its mood and main ideas.
The film shows the contradiction in intergenerational love between parents and children and the "nihilistic" rejection of the principles and values of the elders by the more energetic and somewhat arrogant youths. It also portrays the tensions between conforming to tradition and protesting, trying to find one's unique path in life. Traditional courtship and marriage is shown side by side with more complex relationship between the sexes.
Beautifully filmed, great attention to detail, great musical score.
The actors play outstandingly, including the secondary characters. I was very moved by Sergei Yurskii, as Bazarov's father. What he manages to convey with and without words is truly extraordinary.
The film director has shown that it is possible to make nowadays a thoroughly convincing and beautiful adaptation of a novel written almost 150 years ago. Bravo to her and to all the team.
Pomni imya svoye (1974)
Remember your name; let's not forget the war.
Beginning of WWII. Zinaida, a Russian woman, is taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp together with several other women. She is imprisoned with her baby son, Gena, who is learning to walk and takes his first steps in the snow, in the concentration camp. They spend a few years together in the camp until they are separated, first within Auschwitz itself, then, for good, when the Germans are losing the war and decide to evacuate.
A relatively simple story, but full of substance. Sober treatment of facts. A film that shows, through a personal story, how tragic and devastating the war was, with the loss of loved ones. A film to watch and to remember, if only to see what other people had to go through and (some) managed to survive.
Astounding acting by the main characters, Lyudmila Kasatkina as Zinaida, Slava Astakhov as Gena, and Tadeusz Borowsky. Very moving, powerful acting.
Difficult to watch this film without shedding tears, it really touches one's heart. Similar effect to Polansky's The Pianist, if you have seen that.
Dignity during WWII in blockaded Leningrad
Lopushansky's second film focuses on a few hours in the life of a soloist musician during the siege of Leningrad, in WWII. The Leningrad philharmonic is going to play Chaikovsky's 5th Symphony, which is to be broadcast to England. The soloist, like his fellow musicians, is weak and half-starved, and doubts whether he will be able to perform well enough.
Several of Lopushansky's later aesthetic choices already show in this early film: dark interiors, ominous music, profound respect for his characters.
Main character easily carried through by N. Grinko.
Definitely well worth watching.
Gadkie lebedi (2006)
About the evolution of thought and the agony of non-existence
A clash between the old and the new world. Can children be educated in a better way when removed from their parents, and taught to be more logical, cleverer, more reasonable, not to repeat mistakes that go back thousands of years? Can perfection be attained given the right conditions?
Fairly loose but good adaptation of "Ugly Swans", a novel by the Strugatsky brothers. No surprise if you are reminded of Tarkovsky's Stalker, because Stalker is also based on a story by the same Strugatsky brothers (Picnic by the Roadside).
What follows is a fairly detailed description of the film. Though I am not telling how the film ends, you may not want to read all of this.
Victor Banev, a fashionable writer, is part of a small UN mission going to Tashlinsk, a closed, quarantined city controlled by the military where mokretsy ("the wet ones", usually translated into English either as "Aquatters" or "Slimies") live together with normal humans, and have a say on who is allowed into the city. An important reason for his going there is see his teenage daughter Irma, who is being educated by the Mokretsy in an isolated boarding school for gifted children, with little or no contact with their parents. Children are there out of their choice, simply because what the mokretsy offer them is more interesting than what their parents and tradition has to offer. And this is mostly education, new values, breaking with bad old habits and with half-wasted lives.
The Mokretsy are surrounded by mystery, unpleasant to look at. They are some sort of mutants, or people with some degenerative or genetic disease. But they have some supernatural powers and are more intelligent than normal people.
Although they have lived together for many years, some humans feel threatened by the mokretsy, who have done nothing blatantly wrong. In fact, some humans believe that mokretsy are humans that have contracted a disease, like lepers. Because of this fear, most humans want to wipe the mokretsy out, even if human children under their custody have to go as well. Action to destroy the mokretsy develops quickly after the arrival of Victor Banev in the forbidden city.
One of the key scenes in the film (as in the novel) is when Victor Banev is invited to the boarding school, where his daughter is being educated by the mokretsy. Banev is accustomed to speaking in public, but the gifted children do not make it easy for him. They are not interested in what he wants to tell them (mostly about his literary work, which they dismiss), but ask simple yet difficult to answer philosophical questions, about the future, how to deal with people who do wrong things, etc. Banev regains some ground and accuses them of wanting to dismiss and leave behind the old world, and of being cruel, like previous generations. So, he tells the children something like "You are very bright, but if you are going to be cruel, like in the past, who needs you?"
In this way, Banev is an anti-hero (more so in the novel than in the film) and the story may be regarded as an anti-utopia.
Another key moment in the film is Irma's recorded message to her father, about the way children see their elders' world.
Banev hesitates whether to support normal people who want to do away with the mokretsy, or to support the mutants. He soon has to make a choice because the city is being evacuated and the mokretsy are going to be exterminated by chemical attack using military planes.
In my opinion, Lopushanky manages to convey the book's atmosphere quite well. And this is a particular, fairly oppressive atmosphere: it rains from beginning to end, because the mokretsy control the weather, change the light (a permanent red light) and so on. Ending the film on a much more pessimistic note than the novel is the director's own right (perhaps more in keeping with the times?).
A thoroughly recommendable film.