Watch the exploits of three young romantics as they dance around St. Petersburg, Russia, getting themselves involved in everything from a soccer riot to a rainstorm to a fight between best friends. Set in mostly real time, Olya, Alyosha and Petya act as if the world is their due and they live to enjoy every moment of it. A film alive with energy and a twist at the end that really twists, Progulka (The Stroll) is Alexei Uchitels's latest effort. His last film, His Wife's Diary, was submitted as Russia's Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film of 2000.Written by
In this film, during one very long walk, we get to look deeply into three distinct, young characters, and we get extremely brief but telling glimpses of others as well: Sewer workers, two guys yelling over a minor car accident, a band of gypsies, workers on top of Saint Isaac's, young folks dressed in historic costumes (a gimmick that has become a tacky part of too many historic places). And we also learn much in just a few seconds about many other characters of everyday life in a big and bustling city. This guy can tell a whole story about extremely minor characters in fewer than thirty seconds.
Other reviewers have said that it paints beautiful pictures of Saint Petersburg for foreigners and tourists. Well, I'm a foreigner and I've been to the city about 20 times, sometimes as a tourist, and I don't agree at all. Where are the "touristy" shots? I see a focus on chunks of everyday life, and it's not always pleasant. I see a heck of a lot of the grit that you can find in any big city. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone who hasn't been there because there are so many pretty, filmic representations elsewhere. They need to look at them, not this.
I know that great monuments and palaces and squares and astonishing bridges lurk in the background, but attention is never drawn to them. I see a whole lot of dirt and ugliness, the prosaic details of life, unpleasing details that could be observed in any city in the world.
To me, the city often looks more like the bad end of Chicago, but with a couple of dazzling edifices and statues thrown in to negate the naive, highly-superficial, romanticized view of that beautiful city. We see parts of it only as we are dashing through it rapidly, passing by scenes so fast and often with many obstructions.
This film doesn't pause to show off anything. The city is background, unfocused and surely not showing off its best parts. I believe that we learn the very same things about each of the three main characters.
What masters, all who worked on this film! Did the cameramen manage to avoid getting smashed by trucks or cars? And this is astounding: How did they get to film this movie on crowded Nevsky and other places just jammed with people, without them staring into the camera, like I probably would.
Mr. Uchitel is a true master at selecting the most telling details, and so this short, seemingly simple movie tells much. I feel that I know those three people better than I know Dmitri and Ivan and Alyosha Karamazov, after reading "The Brothers Karamazov" too many times to count, watching the ten-hour series of "The Brothers Karamazov" far more times than once.
I think I love this movie as much for the cinematic techniques as for the characters and their truly quirky story. If I was in Russia now, I would try to hunt down Mr. Uchitel and those three actors and all others who worked on the film and ask each of them if I might bow in awe in front of them.
This movie is astonishing, in story, character, plot, and execution. I've been watching movies since 1950. This one is towards the top of my list of films that have affected me deeply.
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