The Living And The Dead Episode 2

BBC episode 2 description: “When a little boy is disturbed by terrifying visions Nathan must do everything he can to protect him. But Nathan has been having visions of his own.”

Credits:
Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Charlie Thatcher: Isaac Andrews
Ebenezer Alsop: Michael Byrne
Smith: Harry Peacock
Agnes Thatcher: Pooky Quesnel
Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
Simon Merrifield: Ben Fox
Bathsheba Thatcher: Amber Fernee
Mr Woolford: Rupert Procter
Jack Langtree: Joel Gilman
Mary Denning: Marianne Oldham
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Alice Troughton
Writer: Ashley Pharoah


Victims of the Episode:
Charlie and by extension his mother in 1894 with a penitent Ebenezer. The ghost boys who died in the unsafe mining conditions back in the days of Nathan’s grandfather.



Synopsis:

I end up going into West Country mode again during this account of events…

Charlotte notes she hasn’t conceived yet but wants Nathan’s baby. More sitting in fields admiring the scenery and the workers complaining about changes like the surveyors blowing massive holes in nearby fields to see if an aqueduct can be put through the area. A boy named Charlie sees ghosts so he talks to him.

Then later a modern-day ghost car rushes towards him on a lane after the boy has disappeared. FORESHADOWING (In a very heavy-handed way). So everyone goes searching for him. After some spooky music he finds Charlie and brings him home. the boy swears calling them all Bastards and liars. His mother says he ain’t like that he ain’t. So they go and talk about him in the corridor. He was worried bout the changes he is she insists. Next day Charlotte has more ideas how to progress the farm – husband he does and goes tells her be the new farm manager she should. I reckon she likes the idea. Be a right Bathsheba she will. Then there’s bloke wandering in the field and back to the boy in his bed. Has the boy show him, with use of tin soldiers, how the ghost boys did circle him.

There’s gathering of workers as Charlotte, with Gwen in tow, does tell thems she is the new farm manager so she is. Maid/valet/henchwoman Gwen does back her up when there is silence gainst her. Charlotte does admit she got lot to learn. Will be ‘first there in morning and last to leave’ if and she does say so herself. Silence. Says theres a lot of preparation for the harvest needs doing and does walk away laving them to it. As they walk away Gwen says that went well.

Workers aint best pleased. ‘Off to hell in a handcart’ one does say.

Nathan does interview boy’s mother. Says can’t be no secrets if he’s to be helping. They goes to her house and reveal Charlie’s real mother did ‘fall into low company’. Brings out a lock of the woman’s hair that she done kept locked in a safe. Took boy in as her own and got letter from the real mother explain all if n when he wants it. Nathan says she done fine job and will know when time is right to tell him. Aye is foreshadowing boy will find out very soon.
A scream and Charlie boy is stood in the field covered in red clay what does looks like blood. The old guy from before is stood on a tree and wandering the field where he do find workers eating their lunch. One of the workers finds entrance to something. Nathan is teaching boy how to shoot a rifle. Admits he thought he would be teaching his own son. Charlie says he liked Gabriel and they used to play together. They has bonding but boy points the gun at him. Nathan tells him put it down. Charlie fires the gun as he has seen Gabriel stood by the lake where he did drown. Then he runs away. Old guy recites names and walks to the house. Ominous I dare say n all.

Down the pub reverend Denning reckons the boy is playing up pretending about seeing Gabriel. Nathan reckons Gabriel is trying to be in touch as Denning’s daughter Harriet drew a drawing like one his son did on the wall in the last episode and all that. Workers be chatting doing traditional stuff. The old guy comes at Charlotte with a scythe swinging it at her. Cut back to Nathan and Denning as a worker runs in to get him.

Next thing we be back with the boy Charlie and his mother. asks if she’s his mother. She finds it odd as he was told he don’t belong to the village and all. She tells him it’s where he belongs.

Nathan’s wife Charlotte is fine. Said the old man is confused but Nathan is enraged and wants to be giving the man a talking to so he does. The old man is cryptic and all talking of voices drawing him back because of the Appleby mine where he done work as a wee lad. Weren’t good place to be working. Turns out the dead boys be his workmates what died in them mines as boys back then and been haunting it ever since.

Meanwhile the ghosts call on Charlie as he lies in bed. He ain’t liking it.

Old man was the trapper and the boys were cart pushers. he was tasked with opening and closing the doors to let them through.

Charlie gets up and sees the tin soldiers. Five in a row. His mother’s asleep. His three sisters are sleeping in another room. They serve no purpose to the plot except to indicate how overburdened the mother is who took him in as well. A saint she is. Sees after a bit of night-time snooping the letter meant for him from his real mother. DRAMA BOMB!

Old man were an orphan. Left mine without permission and the mine collapsed. As the trapper he was meant to sound the alarm but he wasnt there to do it. Went to overseer, old man Appleby, who is Nathans grandfather. Calls on him for help. hears the boys screams for days til he don’t no more. ‘Only workhouse boys’, he reflects sadly. Orphans so what does it matter to other folk? But now he hears them again.

Next day Denning is going with Nathan down into the mine opening to find Charlie who has wandered off down into them. Land worker comments on the land swallowing them up. Charlotte orders people about to get supplies. She is leading her people like a natural leader – i.e. shouts at people to do things and does nothing herself.

Later, to the maid Gwen, Charlotte says Nathan was dashing young man dedicated to his work but when he stopped he was a sad bloke. When they first met and she vowed to love the sadness out of him. Wants children with him. Bring him that joy again. Maid says she’s sure she will. (So Charlotte is his second wife? This is a thread left open for the possibility of a second season so don’t expect any answers about this).

Down in the mine, which is very spacious considering they laboured the point it’s barely enough for a child to work in, Denning needs to stop a moment. They find stuff and Nathan vows to keep asking questions. This is meant to be heroic but its a bit too ‘made for the trailers’ in its bluntness.

The old man wanders the heathlands some more. Nathan finds the corpses of the boys huddled together. OH THE HUMANITY. The old man collapses above ground unable to breathe. Reverend Denning says some prayers over the mummified corpses of the boys as Nathan ventures onwards. He finds Charlie almost immediately. However the ground is settling overhead and a worker suggests they evacuate. Charlotte defiantly takes exception saying she will judge if its something to worry about or not! No basic scientifically recordable events like gravity, soil density and other factors will. The entrance, under the immense weight of third act drama pressure, collapses. Nathan and Denning hear a croaky voice further in the mines so go to investigate it. Oh wait no they got out alive as this was the entrance. Denning first and then after a dramatic pause Nathan carrying Charlie who is unconscious. So that was a bit pointless. The mother begins to cry in the distance so Charlie, we assume, is dead? The old man says Charlie’s name so I guess he is also suddenly dead. The ghosts apparently claimed them out of the blue with no lead up. That’s lazy writing. DIABLO EX MACHINA!DRAMA CONVENIENCE!

Then Nathan gives a morbid account of seeing his son, Gabriel, die in the lake. Feels he has failed Charlie too now. It’s all about him obviously not the bereaved family or clearing up and burying the old man. He didn’t want to believe there were ghosts (which considering the previous episode’s events makes it a bit suspicious and he’s denying it out of spite when he has already seen evidence). Wife reassures him ‘there are no ghosts there’s just you and me and [that he, Nathan] is alive. They embrace a moment before making out and starting the baby making process. If you saw Poldark its a bit like that. All sensual and such. All this while some reflective sad music plays and we see the dead boys walking arm in arm into the field fading away into history.


Review:
A decent episode with a few good moments and the cinematography is, as through the rest of the series, very strong. As it is the second one I am still giving them a chance but it feels uneven when trying to integrate the Applebys’ story arc with the otherwise episodic nature of the series. It has the most interesting side family of the series as we never learn anything about Charlie’s step sisters so there seems a lot more that could be done with this family but they are put on a cart at the start of the next episode fleeing the cursed community. On that point we are never really made to identify with the old man. His name is Ebenezer (get it? Like in A Christmas Carol – He’s an old man) but good luck knowing that from just watching the episode and not looking it up. Even now I am calling him ‘the old man’ as whatever name he is given is never stated or if so it is said inconsequentially in the middle of more important exposition or dialogue. He is more a narrative device than a man whose only purpose is to explain today’s ghost’s origin story. We don’t learn what he has been doing since running away all those years ago and might as well have been revealed to be a ghost to. In fact he is so inconsequential we are never reminded of him, or the events of this episode, later in the series.

I like it and wish the series stayed true to this episodic nature instead of its gradual descent into melodrama as they don’t make the continuity between episodes strong enough (people fleeing the town aside) but don’t make each episode a strong enough single narrative. Instead there is a lot of padding with the Applebys’ melodrama which for me became quickly tiresome as the early depiction of them made me dislike them so the later events just seem like an ironic karma. The ahead of her time woman becomes dependant on others once pregnant. The man of science descends into madness when he has an unquestionably encounter with a ghost from his own past.

The scythe scene is the only unquestionable issue I have with this episode. It feels like it is there as an advert break cliffhanger rather than part of a BBC drama being watched as a single, uninterrupted, piece. I understand there may have been foreign investment but the scene makes no sense. If the old man was seeking help why would he pick up the scythe at all? Because the workers earlier were not receptive to a strange old man muttering strange things when he emerged from the wilderness? Welcome to the rural, superstitious, town old friend you might remember you lived here and should have known how they would react.

There is a lack of internal logic to the series which often destroys my immersion. The 1894 workforce find an access point to the mines. Was this always present or are they implying the aqueduct works revealed it? If, at the end of the episode, Nathan and Denning were close enough to the entrance (and it is definitely the same access point they went down since everyone is there when they emerge out) to escape so quickly does that mean they completely missed Charlie by, I assume, turning to the left when they would have found him instantly if they turned right? That’s the only way I can explain the inconsistency with the amount of time they’re implied to be down there versus the almost instance it took for them to escape. What killed Charlie exactly? He was possibly weak from not eating yes but not injured in any way and was a healthy boy. Are they implying the ghost boys took his soul? Why, apart from drama, did Ebenezer die too? Just because he was an old man? Because he corrected his wrong by helping them be found? He was off wandering again over land so was he implied to be running away again?

I did like the poetic image of the young boys ghosts walking into the golden fields closing out the episode. Potential – that’s the word that comes to mind often with this series. If the scripts were more focused or more ensemble pieces then it could work but the way they do it comes across as the level of writing I expect from the Saturday evening adventure series like Merlin, Atlantis, Robin Hood and maybe even the Musketeers (which actually has had good writing throughout while balancing adventure and melodrama elements) not a big budget drama series from people as notable as the creators of Ashes To Ashes.

On a side note I am finding it hilarious that I have to go to the official website on the BBC to find the names of these episodes. THey actually give decent clips and galleries on there so go check it out if you like the look of the series.


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The Living And The Dead Episode 1

This week, and each week following, I will be covering each episode of the BBC series ‘The Living and the Dead’ which premiered on their iPlayer service recently. This first episode review is brief and acts as an overview of the major characters. The following entries will be more in-depth when covering the later episodes.

So let’s be introduced to the series and meet our cast of central characters!

Nathan Appleby and his wife return to his farming community hometown as he inherited his family’s estate, farm and the workforce attached to it. When he arrives ghosts begin to harm the townsfolk and its up to him to solve the mystery. Are the ghosts real or just figments of the superstitious people’s minds? will he be able to explain the spooky going ons with his professional skills in the budding field of psychology?

Part ghost detective series, part ‘the old ways were better’ cozy Sunday afternoon TV visuals’ similar to Larkrise to Candleford and part ‘the times they are achanging’ industrial revolution on an agricultural farm drama. It alternates in tone between Victorian ghost story and the aforementioned rural life drama tones very successfully though I wish it was one or the other to be honest. Overall it seems to be about the prevalence of the Spiritualist movement which became more and more popular towards the end of the Nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth.

From the minds that brought you Ashes to Ashes… so there is a twist which was obvious at the end of the first episode. He is investigating ghosts but he himself, or someone else, is seen as a ghost by modern-day people. So it’s a bit like the Nicole Kidman film The Others. Except for the most part the series doesn’t seem to want to make up its mind whether it embraces if the ghosts are real or if they are just figments of people’s imagination until the last episode where it turns into ‘I hate the mentally ill’ and there is explicitly at least one ghost whose existence is unquestionably real. Oh and the last-minute ‘twist’ which you see coming a mile away – in fact I guessed it even before watching tone minute of the series though, if they do another series, it sets up some interesting possibilities.

I will only cover a few of the major recurring characters here as there are so many names and such it is easy to get lost. Suffice to say many characters, though reoccurring in later episodes, only play significant roles in one episode and support roles in others if at all.

Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Merlin grew a beard and got a deeper voice. A psychiatrist whose come back home to his inherited farm lands after his parents deaths. A man of science who contrasts the Reverend Denning who is a man of faith. Is his faith in science unshakeable or will something arise which makes him question reality? A generic protagonist who offers little beyond reacting to events until his ‘twist’ towards the end and then he crumbles into some overwrought acting by someone’s idea of how the mentally ill behave rather than a more natural portrayal.

Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Nathan’s Wife and amateur photographer, which was an exceptionally expensive pastime for the era, who takes over the running of the farm while he… um… that’s a good question. If he wasn’t playing skeptical occult detective what would he be doing? She tends to order the servants about a bit and is not good at making the babies apparently at the start. She is trying to update the farming practises but meets opposition because ‘they havent updated their farming practises since the Roman days’ as she says in episode 2. Is she truly a loving wife or just over compensating? A generic ‘I want to be both a modern woman and a mother’ character, as required by BBC mandate to avoid complaints, set in a time period where such behaviour would be very unusual. Her efforts in running the farm made her come across like a pale imitation of Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd. Perhaps it is hinted she takes inspiration from the novel and tries to become the character but realises the difference between fiction and reality (which of course gets challenged by the existence of ghosts and other matters in the town). Then again maybe I am giving them too much credit considering some of the characterisation in the series.

They are one of those couples so into each other you figure there is a massive bust up on the horizon (oh how true this is) or they are simple-minded. Both are presented as very comfortable in enforcing class rules where their orders are followed without question. They also embody the generations disparaging view that as middle class people they are superior in all ways due to their formal education unlike their workers who rely on passed down skills, knowledge and folk practices. Their workers are little more than biblically named drone to do as they bid. This elitism extends as far as in episode 3 where Charlotte, whose only knowledge of farming is from her books and not personal experience, gets to dictate when they do the harvesting unchallenged. Of course the workers grumble about it down the pub but the fact they accept their lot in life is true to the mentality of the time until issues mount up over the run of the 6 episode series and many flee.

Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
The reverend of the local parish who lives with his wife and daughter. The foil to Nathan’s quasi-man of science during the series. In the first episode we see Nathan help his daughter and throughout the series he act as Nathan’s counterpoint. The Vicar Denning and his possessed daughter. He becomes a sort of Captain Haddock/Dr Watson like foil to Nathan. He gets his big scene in episode 5. Is his faith unshakeable? In a community where many old folk beliefs are still practised does he hold that much power?

Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
The reverend Denning’s daughter who is possessed in the first episode of the series and serves the role of an unintentional clairvoyant. An ingenue who has a face that reminds me of the Engineers from the film Prometheus. When possessed she does a funny gravelly voice. If you know of the Conjuring 2 and the real life Enfield Poltergeist it was based on then you know the voice. It is not at all scary.

Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Maid/house keeper/lady in waiting to Charlotte who ‘speaks with a regional accent so is working class’ stereotype. Yes marm, no marm, three bags full marm. I would die for you if you asked marn. Cops off with an intinerant worker at the end of episode 1 and again a bit later in the series. Otherwise she just says ‘Yes Mam’ to all Charlotte’s wishes and appeases her constantly while acting as all but her personal valet. The only time this image is broken is episode 4 when she is handing a rifle in a comfortable manner suggesting she has had a life long access to it but it’s never explained. IT comes across like an action movie star suddenly forced into a Victorian setting which is quite jarring. She is also a hedge witch. You see hints of it early on but it doesn’t come into play until the last episode or so. Is she a faithful servant or maybe the real power holder in the community as she is in the role of the traditional ‘wise woman’ practising folk remedies the community still believes in. Kerrie Hayes reminds me of Natalie Dormer.

Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
The foreman of the workers. Old fashioned and faithful. He tends to be the go to character to show the old practises of harvest and such often acting as the voice of the workforce to his masters and as the voice of his masters to the workforce. A west country haywain stereotype who is more a narrative device, if that, than a satisfying character in and of himself. He reminds me of James Cromwell’s role as Farmer Hoggett in the film Babe.

Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Mystery character I can’t comment on without spoiling the series for you. Suffice to say once you see her its obvious what the twist of the series is upon sight. I am not sure what the creators were thinking showing her in the first episode as she probably should have only appeared in the last episode or so. But this is by the people who did Life On Mars so you know there will be some twist and I am guessing they were forced by producers or something to have a hook in the first episode to bring people back. She reminds me of the actor Kevin Sussman who plays Stuart Bloom, the comic book shop owner, from the comedy series The Big Bang Theory.

The field workers and village folk – West country ‘ooh arr ain’t got much o that book learning’ stereotypes. Don’t like progress and the changes from ‘the old ways’ both in cultural and work practises. A superstitious lot – but when there are ghosts and such it’s not a negative thing although the show makers obviously focus on the middle class leads. They ain’t much for change. Their the sort of ‘happy in servitude’ character’s Leo Tolstoy would have loved to write about. A few are named and play roles in various episodes but most are interchangeable.


Victim of the episode:
1) Harriet Dennings: possessed by the ghost of a man who wasn’t baptised. She swears a lot and acts out. Relevance to the overarching series plot: Drew a stick figure woman in red on the wall just like Nathan’s dead son did.


BBC’s Episode 1 Description: “Supernatural drama series. Pioneering psychologist Nathan is faced with a disturbing and eerie case – a young girl manifesting terrible voices.”


Synopsis:

I began writing notes and it devolved into a West Country’s accent. I would apologise but it makes the review more authentic. Just like that Chinese microwave meal you bought down the supermarket last week.

The opening reminds me of the work of Kyle Cooper who did the opening to Se7en and many other films. We see flashes of images and items that may, or may not, be relevant to the series overarching storyline. Its meant to set the tone and I feel is very successful in achieving this.

It’s the 1890s and we are in the rural West country of England. Nathan Appleby has a wife who is an amateur photographer. A very expensive hobby which means we definitely will at some point get some spirit photography during the series. They inherit a farmhouse and its land from his dead parents.

Charlotte, his wife, brings in one of them there new fangled steam engine things what does plowing without horses. needless to say staff dunst like it and its gets broken. Wuz it the staff, wuz it dem ghosts or wuz it just a fickle piece of rubbish? (… It’s never said but presumably its just a poor piece of equipment and there is no one around to fix it. Later in the series it apparently got stuck in some marshland and sank.)

but ahm getting head of ‘self. He is what you call a psychologist and this be heady way before their time stuff as its science only just now curring to people exists. There’s girl Harriet. Reverend’s daughter, and she got possessed by ghost o man who ain’t been baptised by his own priest father he weren’t. Things dus happen and servant girl Gwen has it up gainst tree with yearly field worker what says ‘see ya next year; and she replies ‘aye n even if ahm married’. Saucy cow that she is.

Well Nathan he done go an hypnotises girl Harriet and goes down tut river and has her own father baptise the ghost out o her. and that’s end of first episode.

E bye gum lad these reviews will be far longer and ain’t gonna be in this here accent from now on…


Review:

As Tolstoy said “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Applebys are far too happy. It comes across as so overwrought you assume they are both lying but the end of the series suggests that no they really do feel this way. There is of course an issue which arises but it never felt like it was unrepairable until the denouement of the last episode – and please don’t think I couldn’t recognise a gradual escalation if it were presented but this is all too forced and unnaturally paced. The conflict seems very forced as Nathan continually makes clear how he is a man of science, in contrast to Denning who is present for these scenes specifically to be his foil as the local reverend, but we see Nathan completely shift in manner once the ghost of his son is present later on.

I think, having seen the whole series, Denning and his daughter Harriet could be far more interesting protagonists than the Applebys if they were developed more. Yes there is conflict during the series for the Appleby couple to overcome but many of the side characters who are part of the community seem more compelling. Charlie’s families (episode 2 and the first scene of episode 3) and the Hare family (Episode 3 and recurring) are far more interesting than the Applebys but are quickly sidelined for more panning shots for dark houses and tense looking people. Perhaps the Applebys are written to be bland protagonists so we project ourselves onto them but I feel this fails and so they go through the motions when there are characters with far more potential. Instead these characters get ‘ghost of the week’ episode issues which the Applebys resolve with varying levels of success and are soon returned to the background. This series would have been far stronger as an ensemble piece with no definitive central protagonists it feels.

The first episode comes across as if it were the standalone pilot and they should have removed the twist of the modern day person at the end for the released version. It’s a good stand alone episode and certainly, excluding the time dedicated to introducing the Applebys as our main characters, this is a nice ghost story in the classic mould.


More tomorrow hopefully but if not then be assured it will be uploaded the following day.

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Fuan no Tane (2013) Japanese Horror Film Review

Another ‘I watched a Japanese film’ entry.

This time it’s Fuan no Tane, a.k.a Pet Peeves, based on the anthology horror manga of the same name. In the manga the vignettes were apparently ‘based on true stories’ which in modern horror parlance means ‘I made it up but it’s set in a real world place’ – sort of like how the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is based on real events – in so far as Texas is a real world place and cannibals exist.

I read the first volume of the manga and most, if not all, the threads of this film come from that. If you haven’t read it then it consists of urban myth stories lasting no more than three to seven pages in length and usually are more humourous than scary (which may be unintentional due to the overly simplistic design used for the ‘scary’ ghosts). For those expecting some ‘Tit-ilation’, as per the tradition of modern horror films having some gratuitous nudity to the point its a cliché, I have to disappoint you and tell you there is none (its more of a Western thing that rarely appears in East Asian cinema). So, to be clear to those expecting it, the bizarre story featured in the manga where a boy finds a demolished house with a pair of breasts growing out the wall, which he gropes being a little pervert, is not featured in this film. However some of the more memorable stories from the anthology are.

If you want explanations of where the ghosts come from, as is common in Western horror films, forget it. The Japanese prefer to exist in the present not reflect on the past in such matters usually. Of course there are exceptions to this but that is usually reserved for cases of cute ghost girls who were part of a tragic love triangle and died unexpectedly e.g. Shikoku (starring Kill Bill’s/ Battle Royale’s Chiaki Kuriyama in an early role) or the Fatal Frame film (which tags on the camera obscura at the end for no real reason having had nothing to do with it the previous 70 minutes). There is a half arsed ‘conspiracy’ hinted at towards the end but really it is unnecessary and convoluted. In fact there is quite a bit to mock in this film. Where it should probably have gone for a slightly irreverent tone it instead plays out earnestly and it’s hilarious but not in a good way.

So onto the film…

The film changes throughout the first part between a family who have moved into a new, but haunted, house and a student who begins dating his female coworker who apparently has a few ‘secrets’ *cough*occult magnets *cough*.

The first scene we are introduced to has 1970s level of SFX human eyeballs sliding on down the highway being crushed by ongoing traffic. Where are they going? What are they doing? Nothing really. This is one of the short stories depicted in its entirity…and apparently these same eyeballs also haunt a house, causing an old man to slip up, when not committing suicide on the highway. Or because the crew liked how cheap and reuseable this practical effect was unlike the CGI they used elsewhere.

A motorcyclist delivery man, who we later learn may or may not be named Seiji, discovers a guy stuck in a hedgerow and we only see half of him vertically as he begs for help. So of course being a good Samaritan Seiji helps pull him out. There is no other half and the half-ghost collapses on top of Seiji and makes him scream in the empty street. Except for a lone girl stood in the background wearing all white. (Clearly an Ayanami Rei reference). He’s a ghost. There are spooky people watching him. There are eyeballs that might have caused an accident. WOoooooooOOOOOOoooooohhhhh are you scared yet?

Guys, slightly drunk or just you classic movie jerks who rarely exist in real life, see an attractive woman walking ahead of them. They cat call to her and one runs up to speak to her face to face. She has an inhuman face – in this case a bale of straw. The Japanese love this kind of ‘looked human but, nope, it was a yurei/yokai. The anal eye one, shirime, always gets people’s attention although its more common to see the ‘blank’ face type, Noppera-bō, usually said to be Tanukis playing pranks.

A little boy wants to pee but between him and the downstairs toilet there’s a shadowy figure lurking in the low lit dark at the bottom of the stairs and it can hang from the ceiling too. In fairness this one is definitely based on children’s reality. There were a few others in this vein they could have easily done like a teenage boy leaving school and refusing to look at a wall because he knows it’s a giant monster face. But instead we get what seems like two stories, and a few loose ends, that suddenly become one in a omnishambles ending. So from here on out you even get time stamps in case you ever find a way to watch this film and want to skip to the good bits.

19.30 A clumsy waiter, soon to be a main character, encounters some ‘badass’ Japanese biker type guys who enter his restaurant and snarl at him. The Japanese are comical when trying to seem tough using foreign influences. Their Yanki bikers, teenager bike gangs based on an exaggerated image of 1950s American biker culture (similar to how Russian Stilyagi are an exagerated version of 1950s rock and roll youths) are a prime example of how they don’t quite ‘get’ what it is they’re aping so amalgamate it with some of their own culture to create a strangely synergistically unique version that is all their own. These bikers serve no other purpose in the film which is a shame as they were far more charismatic than the main cast – and all they did was grunt.

There is a person sat in a dimly lit corner in a mac coat, wide-brimmed hat and a surgery mask. Waiter boy’s coworker, who is also soon going to be a main character soon, stops him serving the guy. She says don’t ever serve that person. (they caught the reflection of the film’s cameraman in this shot too).

The guy of course serves him! He has to! In order to tempt fate and actually give us something daunting to threat over. Well maybe not threat about as this guys a chump asking for death it seems. Or just to spite his coworker. She probably looks at any customer who isn’t bishonen, a J-Pop Idol or whatever passes for an attractive male in Japan and instantly declares ‘I’m not serving that person they’re a ghost!’ and thus is kind of crap at her job probably.

The mystery guy is a ghost with something under the mask… we don’t see what but at this budget level it is probably better to leave it to or imagination as the precedent of ‘human but with a non-human object face’ is giving me flash backs to Reeves and Mortimer in the 1990s.

The ghost follows him home. Well I mean come on he’s the only person whose going to serve him any food or drink. A bit like a stray cat or dog when you think about it.

It watches his apartment from across the street at night waiting beneath a telephone pole. In my head this scene could really take on a different tone with the right music.

Ultravox or something. Or this:

As FBI agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks might say “that’s a damn fine cup of water”. Enough to defy passing on for apparently. Quite a lonely ghost really and in the end it didn’t do much except stand outside.

The next section had faulty subtitles so if you read the Misa Kuroi reviews you know I just have to guess what the hell is happening… I did read the manga chapter this is based on but only half remember it.

The evil containing tea-pot: The guy gets invited to his former coworker-now-girlfreind’s appartment. They chat over tea. She asks if there is anything wrong. It’s as if someone or something, is hurting him. He denies it because he wants to seem all alpha male for her and assure progress from tea buddies to D in da PDA-buddies but she sees past his bluff, calls him a liar and becomes enraged. She’s a modern woman and can deal with a beta male for a partner. They kiss and sleep together. Either way ‘mission accomplished’ in his mind I guess…

Time apparently passes quite significantly during a single scene transition as he now suddenly notes, after 5 minutes of screen time together as a couple, that stress has built up between them daily. Sexual tension? Nope can’t be that – that notch is already carved in the bed post for him. Must be something else.

One night he explores her apartment – because that sort of invasion of privacy is always good in a relationship isn’t it? In a small cupboard he finds a grime covered old teapot. Someone who hides dirty kitchen ware instead of wash it – yup that’s early 20 something kind of behaviour – nothing suspicious here then. She appears behind him. Was she there the entire time? It reminds me of that woman who hid in a guy’s flat for years without him noticing.

Yeah she is definitely that kind of crazy – even though it’s her apartment. The teapot was an inherited item and the idea is you rid yourself of negativity by using it. She demonstrates by taking the lid off and shouting into it. She acts like this is normal and offers it to him so he can try. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all…

He notes how the grime has affected not only the teapot but also the surrounding surface. Very observant of him. Maybe he could just man up, get a wet cloth and wipe it down for goodness sakes rather than complain about it since it’s the twenty first century.

As he goes to touch it his arm becomes badly affected by low quality CGI veins and he pulls agonising faces. Me too – the acting is really corny. IMPOSSIBRU style facial contortion levels of acting. Like a constipated orange. She jokes around about it and scares him. And yet he can’t say no to her because… because… it must be true what they say about the skills of crazy people in the bedroom. Think with you head and run for the hills main guy! Or don’t as you don’t seem like the sort of guy who can chat up women easily. If this was an American film he would have a ‘comic relief’, or ‘so-cool-you-seriously-question-why-they-are-friends’ friend telling him she was out of his league. Well it’s a small town and he has no friends so he’s doomed. The urge to dry hump overpowers the brain in such cases.

33.38 The stalker ghost waits for him across the street from his apartment. night-time and daytime it doesn’t matter. He can’t leave his apartment. Again this scene needs its own soundtrack.

It is at this point I begin to confuse ‘met the half ghost’ delivery motorcycle guy from the start and the ‘I was a waiter but now I’m a shut-in hikikomori’ guys. I mean it’s not as if the characters are very distinct. So… yeah a case of ‘the main guy is also not the main guy because the main guy is someone else… but maybe he isn’t’. Even worse, both ride motorcycles so… yeah. Distinct characters. They have very similar haircuts too and have that overall indistinct ‘attractive guy’ look so… One dies at the and the other doesn’t.

‘Spoilers’ you cry. ‘Horror clichés’ I reply. No one is getting out of this experience untainted.

35.25 The theme tune of the movie plays. Was all of it so far just a set up? Hell even the James Bond ones don’t go over 15 minutes at most for their cold openers! Ghosts are drawn to the electrical charge of the overhead power lines. I know because I read the manga to know the context. To you, watching it without context, it’s cloth rags drawn to the static of the power lines as if they’re acting like a Van Der Graf generator. See you’ve learned some science in todays account so it’s not been completely pointless. Either way its some bad CGI again. For all their technological advances the Japanese don’t seem bothered by sub par CGI use. Maybe they use the logic ‘it’s meant to look unreal… bad CGI looks unreal… so case closed’.

We are back with the family from the start of the film. Power suddenly goes out across the town for no reason. The boy finds a flashlight for his family. He flashes it on and off and they joke about having a disco. This is meant to endear them to use despite us all knowing, from experience, what’s coming up next… Him being told to knock it off, disciplined and told treat the situation seriously? Nope. Of course not. He really deserved a slap to be honest. Kid or not this was an annoying sequence. I bet they didn’t have any candles or matches in the house either yet risked him breaking the torch for a bit of ‘look this is a loving family’ forced character dynamics.

He switches it on permanently and sees a disfigured ghost behind his parents and so of course drops the torch from shock. Because we all know if you can’t see it then it definitely can’t see you. White eyes. See, no one says it but these dead things all have severe cataracts in their eyes. Blind as bats one and all.

When the father puts it back on their mother has disappeared. A scream echoes through the house. They run towards her location only to find a discarded arm stump and hand. Something falls over. Coughing. A figure grabs the father and stabs him to death as his children watch terrified. Was it the mother? The torch is picked back up by the boy and he looks to his father, then the arm stump and finally the fresh corpse of his dead mother.

The boy is grabbed and his head held. He tells his sister to run. WOAH KID! It’s almost like you are going to be set up as a heroic protagonist we will be seeing more of later in the film as if this was someone’s back story but we just haven’t been told it is yet! She runs out of the house as his head seems to be crushed.

Oh maybe not then…

I will give it to the Japanese. They don’t generally shy away from killing children in horror films if it seems the logical conclusion to a scene.

Back with the couple we see the teapot is being thrown in the river. If it was that easy why didn’t she do it before? Well because she liked the outlet of contaminating the teapot with her negative emotions. Lucky for her it wasn’t over a hundred years old and became a tsukumogami… except it was a family heirloom so probably it could have been. I personally can’t wait for Fuan no Tane 2: Revenge of the Angry Teapot.

It was Yoko, the girlfriend’s, childhood being recounted everytime we saw this family you’ll be surprised to hear. That was actually a nice surprise as usually female characters can seem like window dressing in Japanese films. She is still depicted as a helpless victim so that’s not so good but baby steps.

Also note I finally learn their names at this point. Not intentionally but the subtitles finally got around to actually mentioning them. I think the subtitler also began to get confused between restaurant boy and delivery boy.

She tells her boyfriend they found the father’s corpse but not those of her mother or brother. Ever since then she has the ability to see ghosts etc. That’s how ESP and other occult powers work. Sort of like Spider-man except the spider just walked across his hand rather than intentionally bit him. A guy who will soon die she says i.e. Seiji the protagonist a.k.a the boyfriend she is speaking to or is it the shut-in? SHOCK! We get a flashback to the half corpse and she was the girl who was down the road watching him. I thought they had skimped on the budget for background extras after the restaurant scene but apparently this was intentional. Very Rei Ayanami of her then… He huddles up at home under a blanket. Him. The other guy. The one with a ghost stalker. You know who I mean.

46.00 The stalker ghost is gone from the street. Seiji notes a hand sticking up out of some nearby garbage on the street and hides away again. He considers it is probably a fake. He laughs. Ha ha ha yes all this stuff about a stalker ghost who has made you sit under your blanket for the past… however long the couple have been going out which must be over a month by now at least… Yeah it’s all just make-believe that someone has been stood outside your apartment waiting for you. He decides to go look at the rubbish bags and finds out it’s a mannequin’s hand. Ha ha ha. But UH OH a voice calls out that someone is touching her hand! He turns and sees a woman with a hideous face missing her hand and she starts hitting him with a hand axe or hammer… a piece of coal on a stick? He is hit over and over. Very slowly. Very very slowly. Incredibly slowly. Without any ‘striking’ sound effect as he cries. Obviously there was no budget for a foley artist. He goes home. That… that was rather non-commital for a sudden assault. It reminded me of the following:

Seriously…

50.00 – the ‘funny face’ symbol, which looks like a melted plug socket, recurs on someones door as a badge. I remember this face from the manga and it was one of the stupidest stories that went nowhere yet seemed a favourite of the author. The owner flicks it away but it reappears. He ignores it. Heroes always ignore danger. I think this is motorcycle-deliver-man-who-saw-half-ghost’ guy. He has a motorcycle so let’s just assume it is. He has a leather jacket. He’s a protagonist. Let’s not discuss it any further.

Night time – his next door neighbour, an attractive lady, returns and washes. The water in the bath next to her bubbles and a ghost begins to rise. Freddy Kruger is that you? Oh, wait, no they’re just doing something similar. Next day the guy goes to investigate the noise outside and finds a police investigation and onlookers there. Did he seriously not hear anyone outside? I mean seriously? I know the Japanese have this cultural thing about being considerate of others but I think a load of the local goose-neckers and old women housewife gossips wouldn’t be that considerate. Yoko appears and expositions about… stuff. Not important stuff. Just ‘there be ghosts’ vagueness. Honestly you won’t figure anything out from what she says. The subtext is ‘I’m a mysterious girl with connections to the supernatural’… which we already know Miss ‘Shouts-In-Teapots’.

The guy blames the badge symbol. Good call although would you really lead to that conclusion if you were in his position? Someones been murdered? Can you imagine Columbo, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Porfiry Petrovich, Erast Petrovich Fandorin, Kogoro Akechi, Kindaichi Kosuke, Tintin, [insert the names of any other detectives you know] to reach such a conclusion?

53.40 Seiji survived the light pummeling though he now has a bloody bandage on his head. So either he under-reacted, over-reacted or had a delayed response and should have some brain swelling at this point and already be dead. The film ignores this more interesting possibilities and its a case of ‘he’s got a boo-boo on his bonce’ here. Yoko had been taking care of him. So she’s having it off with both guys. Well she is ‘supernaturally’ aligned and so its a given she is a bit of a ‘lady of the night’ morally. Deny it. Tell me there is a group of mythologies where women are not depicted as tempresses. You can’t, I bet.

Maybe this guy isn’t Seiji. I don’t care as mentioned earlier. He panics and she tries to calm him. She admits the town is… but doesn’t finish what she is saying. She tries to comfort him then flies into a rage telling him maybe he should just leave. she tells him the town is saying die die die die die! Bunny boiling alert! She then kicks him, an injured man, and tells him to go die and leaves. The Japanese view of women… The guy decides he needs to leave and can’t do as Yoko asked. Defying the order to die… um, good for you? Stand up for yourself Mr MGTOW! Oh well we got this far without the awkwardness of japanese narrative logic creating out of character moments just to justify plot developments so let’s just ignore this scene. She didn’t turn into a massive malformed demon so clearly it wasn’t an RPG boss fight he needed to complete in order to progress the story.

56.00 – Now the stalker ghost and hammer ghost girl both wait in the street together and Yoko walks past his apartment glancing up at it. What song fits this scene? It’s hard to say…

I mean… I assume they grew up in the town.

56.40 – Guy returns to his apartment and the face symbol is there again. He peels it off and puts it on next door’s or it magically attached when he flicks it. Very heroic to let yet another person fall victim to it when he knows the consequences. Next morning there is another crime scene and Yoko. The guy must be a deep sleeper and his alarm clock has a radio that plays at full blast as he does his morning routine. That’s the only explanation. A suicide by hanging this time. She tells him to ‘leave that evil thing alone. wherever the symbol is stuck it’ll certainly … bring their end’. Thanks Miss Exposition but you’re a few scenes too late.

56.56 – Another little boy protagonist who is talking to his family writing and drawing about a scary faced ghost he can see called Ochanan. It’s a stupid face. in the manga it feels more like a joke story but here they try to make out there’s some weird conspiracy about it. Seriously it doesn’t get explained and as far as I know there is no sequel so it seems very stupid to base the main storyline around this gag story in what is, I assume, meant to be a seriously toned film. It’s very weird and it would freak you out but not in a way that you wouldn’t instantly just kick it in the face for invading your privacy. An adult shows another adult a photo of the boy with the ghost in a window behind him.

Are you scared yet? No? Shock! Have some respect! I mean it’s not as if at this point I was myself seriously considering having a nap since nothing interesting has been happening during the sedate pacing of the film…

Guy looks at his next door’s front door and gets on his motorbike. Yes you just allowed someone to die for no good reason because you are too cool to risk seeming paranoid by saying ‘hey, someone died here so… you know… maybe consider moving?’ Cool guys let people die. Especially when they could be riding about on a motorcycle instead.

1.01.00 – The coworker guy is still stuck in his flat mumbling to himself. Someone approaches the building. Footsteps can be heard. Tension builds and it’s Yoko. Isn’t that more scary? I mean between a girl who kicks him and tells him to go die versus a ghost who stands under s street light at night I would go with the less immediate threat personally. She tells him to hurry and hide. He looks out the window. The ghosts are not there. No they have common sense unlike you.

1.04.20 – Seiji a.k.a. biker-boy is on his motorcycle recalling Yoko’s words. He decides to live… Speeds up… The sun glares blinding him… He hurtles into the same hedgerow he saw the ghost at. He is the new ‘Mr vertical sliceghost’… or maybe it was his own ghost he saw at the beginning but didn’t recognise. Trust me it make sense I offer this suggestion once you learn the ‘it was her family all along’ twist isn’t the only time related story twist of this film.

1.05.40 – Yoko’s coworker runs out his door and she slowly follows. She isn’t going to escape with him. She says she can’t leave the town. SHE’S A GHOST!?

Probably… or an ‘occult girl’ stereotype which is popular in Japan. I mean I’ve seen enough supernatural/occult related Japanese media to say that this sort of character is a stock figure for such tales and rarely gets given much of a background beyond the sort of ‘she’s a bad girl’ kind you get for female roles in 1950’s films. It’s like that bit in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows where the daughter suddenly turns out to be a werewolf and she tells her mother to ‘just deal with it’. Seriously, that scene was asinine… It’s the same deal with these ‘oh so cool’ occult girls in Japanese productions. You are not told much of their abilities so they just make them up as needed like a Silver age Superman or Batman with his utility belt. It doesn’t make for drama and your budget doesn’t allow for spectacle to distract us from this like some of the recent Marvel films do. If you don’t give people a reason to care for a character then they won’t. Especially one who seems to be dealing with the situation fine and is fully in control.

Yoko is just Misa Kuroi under an alias! If you rounded up all these generic Japanese occult girls from various series they would have an ‘I’m Spartacus’ scene – except in this case they really would be interchangeable. Long dark hair and pale skin are always essential. Monosyllabic communication is also often a common trait. Any dismissal of others is an added bonus for depicting such characters. After all they do know what is going on and the normal people freaking out, because a creature who defies all physics and just ate a few people after passing through a wall unhindered, is just being pathetic obviously.

Its been hinted throughout the film (poorly) she is something to do with the supernatural conspiracy of the town. She kissed the guy goodbye. It lasts a bit too long really. It’s a goodbye kiss… FOREVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRR

Seiji crashes and the badge flies through the air landing by some kids playing football in the street. They, being stupid kids who touch shiny things, pick it up and put it on the coworker’s motorcycle as Yoko watchs them do so while maintaining the kiss with the guy. Seiji didn’t crash as we suspected he would. He barely missed doing so and leaves safely riding past Yoko and the coworker who are still in the process of kissing…

Clearly it’s never mentioned but they have to have gills to have been kissing this long. They’re descended from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Deep Ones, Mermaids (Ningyo for those wanting it to all be Japanese mythology… so she could be a Yaobikuni like figure in such a case and if so the whole time loop thing reminds me of the PS2 game Forbidden Siren) or any other such figure – take your pick of ‘people who don’t need to breathe the normal way’e.g. Quiet from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.

1.08.30 They say farewell finally and he goes to ride off with the badge stuck to his motorbike. Can you see what’s coming? You don’t get a reward for guessing. She watches him head off. On the motorway he is muttering about how he can escape destiny/her/being the other guy/this film. He rides and there are some good static overhead shots in fairness to the cinematographer. Shame they arrived so late to the production as it might have at least been a visually interesting film otherwise. He thinks he made it. Of course he does. If he thought ‘I haven’t made it’ we wouldn’t be able to criticise him. Then he sees Ochanan boy hanging onto him and he crashes into the hedgerow. Wow what bad CGI on the boy’s face. It’s actually more hideous than if they had used any of the budget on better effects. The coworker is now like the vertically cut ghost from the earlier part of the film. Maybe he was the ghost from the earlier part. Who knows. All the guys in this film are interchangeable.

… wait did they have two versions explaining the ‘vertical ghost’ thing. I am not sure. Did I rewind the film a bit and watch the same sequence? I… what… it’s like there’s some sort of time warp… *cough*hint*cough*

1.11.15 A press conference of a well dressed man and woman shaking hands in front of a banner with the Ochanan face symbol on it. Either they are in government or business together it’s unclear. There is no explanation so this scene is completely random except to suggest some sort of ‘curse handed down by the region’s ruling samurai family. A side story which only now gets introduced (though I added suggestions to find a way they possibly tried hinting at it very poorly earlier in the film).

Seiji pulls up to the side of the road watching the sunset. He wonders about Yoko…. who then turns up. he realises he lived. She changed his fate then? They silently stand by each other watching the sunset over the steelworks of the town. This is romantic scene gold. He says there were no more stange incidents and he graduated university with Yoko. Umm… what? Seriously? What has this to do with anything?

A photo of the Ochanan writing boy, who I assumed to be Seiji in the past, is shown static on-screen. But no, in fact, Seiji married Yoko and this boy is their son. The boy was/is haunted by Ochanan.

So all this time the boy writing was ‘in the future’ of the main narrative. The family of Yoko, Seiji and the boy sit having dinner with Seiji’s father who is admiring the boy’s drawing of Ochanan. He tells Seiji when he was younger Seiji also saw the ghost. The grandfather says how there are two Ochanans. one whose eyes slant upwards is the one to be beware of. (In the manga they also mention the good one but that is skipped here which makes mention that this is ‘the bad one’ awkward as there is only the one version of it ever addressed).

The boy sees Ochanan in the slightly ajar futon cupboard behind his mother as fuzzy CGI. Terrifying… The lights go out. The boy finds the torch and gives it to Seiji. It goes on and off. Everyone has disappeared. Daiki is the boy’s name. Did we need to learn that at this late stage? No, not really. There is a crash and coworker is there in his half cut form and Seiji sees his dead father who, along with the coworker, begins crawling towards him. SHAKEY CAMERA TIME! Seiji gets a knife and stabs the ghost repeatedly. Seiji recovers and finds himself stood in Yoko’s old home having murdered her father and mother. He killed his in-laws (as many no doubt wish they could)! But that was the past and this is the future so.. so… so time is cyclical? He travelled back through time? Or did the kitchen scene and him overlap just for that brief moment in time thus creating the illusion of a ghost in both scenarios? It just throws up too many questions…

Its like the Forbidden Siren series on the PS2… except that made sense and justified the looping time frame.

1.19.54 Yoko and Daiki are safe but Seiji is missing. A voice begins singing the theme tune. Oh, are we going to have a big song and dance finale!? Yokai and yurei and everyone comes out to do a big parade song and dance to send the audience off? It’s a fox wedding in the rain?!

No… No we don’t. But don’t rain on my parade as it’s a better ending to what we got.

It’s a boy sat facing the wall. It’s Ochanan! So Ochanan is her brother’s ghost? I… how does that work? His face looks ridiculous. (Then who was the ghost that turned him into Ochanan? … Or was Ochanan possessing him and took his form?) Then one of the half corpses comes down from the ceiling for a jump scare.

Cut to black.

The eyes are sliding along the highway again and the song is still being sung. Time is a flat circle.

Ochanan’s symbol is seen on a road sign. It’s the region’s symbol I guess. Yoko and Daiki look over the highway and their faces are now straw bales. So she was the ‘sexy lady walking dow the road being harassed by drunks’ woman too then? So Daiki was always half yokai/yurei? Were stalker-ghost and hand-missing-hammer-girl ghost actually Yoko’s parents? The CGI is badly overlapped onto their faces considering this is the final shot of the film… then the film’s ending theme song of soft rock kicks in. Horror always ends with soft rock in Japan. It’s the ‘music of the devil’ for a conservative audience with delicate sensibilities.

… What.

What was that ending all about? A sequel hook?

My sentiment of this film’s existence and a possible explanation of what they were going for with the time looping twist which failed miserably. You cannot escape your fate – only delay it until time repeats itself.

The film tries to combine a few of the anthology manga’s ‘true stories’ and makes for a really awkward mess in the end. There’s no logic and I made an effort to make it credible but it’s ridiculous. If they played it for laughs I would enjoy it but it seems to be earnest in its narrative. I liked the manga as the brevity of each story meant if you didn’t like one then, within a few pages, there was a different one (albeit a few themes got repeated like ghosts haunting walls or Ochanan) to read. Here they make a muddled mess of a narrative starting off with one idea and then deciding they might as well throw as much in as they can.

Have you see the Goosebumps film? Or at least the trailer? Same thing applies here. Trying to do too much from the source material to appease a wide a demographic as possible and ultimately under serving everything. The various concepts they could have gone with, if they focused on just one or two with common themes, are shown in their most basic form instead of their potential being explored. The stories are, as urban myths, all a bit generic but there is nothing wrong with that as long as you make an effort for the experience to be enjoyable. Sadly they don’t here and probably relied on brand recognition of the Fuan no Tane name for those already familiar with it as an already existing audience. A lot of film making companies do that nowadays but it’s a sad pattern.

This film in conclusion… don’t watch it. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table and it’s either dull or underplays what it does deliver. I came for a fun time – I leave pessimistic. I hope you enjoyed my account of it. It was more fun than the film was.

The Audience: Theatre Review

The Audience – A new play by Peter Morgan

Winner of three Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, National Theatre Live’s smash-hit broadcast of the original West End production of The Audience – featuring Helen Mirren’s multi-award-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II – returns to cinemas in celebration of the monarch’s 90th birthday.

Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and directed by two-time Tony Award winner and Academy Award – nominated director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours), these special encore screenings include an exclusive Q&A with Helen Mirren and director Stephen Daldry.

For sixty years, Queen Elizabeth II has met with each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a private weekly meeting. This meeting is known as The Audience. No one knows what they discuss, not even their spouses.

From the old warrior Winston Churchill, to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair right up to today’s meetings with the current incumbent David Cameron, the Queen advises her Prime Ministers on all matters both public and personal. Through these private audiences, we see glimpses of the woman behind the crown and witness the moments that shaped a monarch.

The Audience was presented in the West End by Matthew Byam Shaw for Playful Productions, Robert Fox and Andy Harries.


(This teaser is from the later Broadway run but gives you an idea of the costumes and staging)


Cast: West End performers

Queen Elizabeth II: Helen Mirren
John Major: Paul Ritter
Gordon Brown: Nathaniel Parker
Harold Wilson: Richard McCabe
Winston Churchill: Edward Fox
Anthony Eden: Michael Elwyn
Margaret Thatcher: Haydn Gwynne
David Cameron: Rufus Wright
James Callaghan: David Peart
Equerry: Geoffrey Beevers
Young Elizabeth: Nell Williams



Review: The play operates as a series of interconnected, non-chronological, vignettes regarding meetings between the Queen and her Prime Ministers. Tony Blair, although mentioned, is omitted in this early version of the play. A few scenes are of their first meetings, with most set during mid-term meetings and one, James Callaghan, breaking the routine towards the end by appearing as a cut away reminiscence as the prime minister the Queen forgets to recall when she counts all the prime ministers she had. Admittedly he acts as a one scene wonder joking that she called him ‘Sunny ‘Jim’. In fact the same could be said of most of the actors playing various Prime Ministers although John Major returns a second time but, most notably, Harold Wilson has quite a few scenes with the Queen showing his first meeting with her, a holiday at Balmoral and one of their last audiences where he is shown to be paranoid of the room being bugged and admits to the Queen he is in the early stages of dementia before the Queen, in the indirect manner in which she makes her view clear. It is all but explicitly stated he was her favourite Prime Minister as he was given the honour of hosting a dinner for her and Philip at 10 Downing Street which was an honour last given to Winston Churchill.

The stage layout could be as minimal as having just two chairs on the stage but we also get some other pieces of furniture such as a bureau desk, a table for drinks and during the Balmoral scene a 3 bar heater. The provenance of each item of furniture is recounted by the Equerry (a sort of aide-de camp but nowadays more like a personal servant similar to a valet but for monarchs) and usually raises a few laughs. Usually I would make a basic stage layout diagram but it seems redundant here. The only thing I need add is that when set in Buckingham palace we have a background looking down a corridor to give a full impression of the immense size of the building along with its marble columns and while at Balmoral the background is of a highlands scene with chandeliers composed of stags’ antlers.

The costumes are historically based and during the intermission we were shown a documentary of the behind the scenes process of research with photos of the various era of the queens clothing and her hair styles. At one point, when transitioning from John major in the 1990s all the way back to Winston Churchill in the 1950s just before the Queen’s inauguration, there is a costume change live on stage. This is done by three attendants, who are actually the wig and costume staff of the production, crowding her and changing her outfit so that the queen goes from an old woman back to a young woman. Also, between Prime Ministers, we have scenes where the Queen addresses her younger childhood self who rebels and cannot conceive of being a monarch. They give us the audience and insight into how the Queen has a duality as she always wanted to just live a country life but having taken the role of monarch must act the part. Also later in the play we have actual corgi dogs, which the Queen adores, run across the stage. Of course they upstage everyone and would have been a distraction if on the stage for any significant period of time.

This is a light-hearted play with quite a bit of wordplay or what nowadays would be called ‘banter’ between the Queen and her various Prime Ministers. At the 2013 Olivier Awards, Helen Mirren received the best actress Olivier for her portrayal of the Queen, while Richard McCabe received the best supporting actor nod for his role as Harold Wilson. In this play anyone can be the standout performance it feels but with the most stage time these two roles, of the Queen which the performance hinges upon and Wilson who has multiple scenes with her, are inevitably the ones people will leave remembering.

The key question people no doubt have is whether knowledge of British political history is necessary. I would say you don’t to enjoy it. In fact having a little prior knowledge is a doubled edge sword as you will see the caricatures for what they are but at the same time, for the disinterested, its just people interacting with the Queen to no real end. The various roles are caricatures of the real life people and any suggestion regarding the authenticity of the Queen’s portrayal I think is best summed up by Helen Mirren herself: we have many photos and portraits of the Queen but each is as much influenced by the artist as it is by its subject matter. This play itself is just another portrait depicting a particular perception of the Queen just as we only have contemporary depictions of monarchs of past centuries to base our portrayals on. It’s a fun play which you will enjoy seeing once but I personally would wonder if it has any legs.

It is a time capsule of sorts in that it gives the current view of these political figures and, as mentioned in the interview shown after the show, they had to (and no doubt still do) update the portrayal of David Cameron week on week so that it feels as up to date as possible. It’s evitably at some point there will be another Prime Minister after Cameron and one day the Queen herself will sadly die so how much they add to the play and if they alter it is some way is questionable. For example interjections into other scenes as Callaghan’s scene can feel forced and as I mentioned earlier in this early version Tony Blair (and others) were omitted. It feels that for the time being this is going to be a constantly evolving play but whether it will still be held in prominence decades from now or assigned to the same place as many historical plays is to be seen. Go see it, enjoy it, just be mindful you are watching caricatures of these people not fair reflections of who they were and often it looks at their positives and ignores the bad political moves of some of them.

the audience leaflet2

Elena [2011 Russian Film a.k.a Елена]

The BBC’s description on iPlayer: “Drama in which a Moscow housewife and former nurse must take desperate measures to save an inheritance and solve all her family’s money worries.”

That is quite misleading and influences your perception of the film. Suffice to say I took quite a different reading of the narrative.

Elena (Russian: Елена) is a 2011 Russian drama film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize.

At the core of the film is the interaction, or lack thereof, between Elena, a former nurse, and Vladimir her husband who can afford to live in a ‘good’ apartment area due to his earnings but refuses to subsidise his in-laws despite Elena’s pleading. he has a daughter, Katya, from a previous marriage/relationship, who he hasn’t seen in a while, is unemployed, ‘turned out like her mother only interested in life’s pleasures. A goddamn hedonist’ and yet whom he dotes on so, its implied, she has a good standard of living with few if any responsibilities.

In contrast Elena,from a previous marriage or at least relationship, has a grown son named Sergei who lives in a much poorer area where there are gangs of young men and graffiti on the interior walls of the apartment building’s stairwells. His wife is named Tanya and the couple have two children. Sasha who is of school leaver’s age and faces the choice between the statutory armed forces enlistment (which is common in a few countries) or going to university which the family cannot afford. Elena often tells Vladimir that Sasha has health concerns and wants him to provide the money for the boy’s tuition costs. The is the central concern of the film as Vladimir refuses seeing the army as a good option. There is also a baby who I missed the name of but only seems to exit to reinforce the idea Sergei cannot afford to provide for his family as its yet another mouth to feed.


Here follow the notes I made while watching the film with a few additions. The important bits I will highlight. If you want the overall review just scroll further down. Nothing particularly humourous but, if like me, you want to know what happens in some films you will rarely find any reasonable synopsis on Wikipedia. So while this may seem cumbersome it’s probably one of the rare times you will see any significant account of the movie’s events. Go see the film for yourself as reading this doesn’t do the narrative justice and is just here in case you feel you missed something after viewing it.


The film begins by holding on a static image of outside the couple’s apartment for what seems like an eternity and a crow flies onto a branch. This holds far too long.
Elena dresses older than she seems. She is a grandmother though. This is how women in the mid twentieth century dressed not modern times.


Sergei’s son, Sasha, looks far older than he probably is. Hard life asking for money from your mother. (I’m not sure it’s ever mentioned he has a job throughout the film).
Sparse use of music throughout. This makes it more effective compared to the never-ending dirge you usually get in film scores. I’m reminded of the previews of Batman and Robin where they bragged about how there was only 5 minutes in the entire film where there wasn’t music.


(When someone points something like that out to you it becomes all-encompassing to the point other aspects get ignored. I don’t remember if the 5 minutes was during an important scene. I would assume so.)


Money concerns – will Sasha, the grandson, go to university or into the army? No one seems particularly bothered either way as they don’t mention making an effort to get the money for themselves or that they barely have enough money for basic amenities.


Elena and Vladimir sleep in separate bedrooms. he watches tv, she listens to another while doing small household tasks. Theme seems to be that everyone is living separate lives though everyone is in the same family. Here and at the end we over hear the television programme and perhaps its meant to offer a meta-narrative discussing the desire for self-improvement. Perhaps its being hinted Elena got involved with Vladimir because she thought it meant she would have a better life but, just like this aspiration programme, its empty promises and the reality is far more harsh.


She and Vladimir even use different mirrors. She uses a vanity table at the start when preparing for the day and he uses a bathroom one 24 minutes into the film.


Vladimir is the patriarch though doesn’t spend time with his in-laws i.e. Elena’s family. He calls Sergei her son so obviously never connected with them. Vladimir doesn’t want to pay for Sasha’s education and considers the army ‘the best school there is’. He sees Sergei as lazy for not being able, or perhaps willing, to provide for his own family. Nor does Vladimir care for Sasha’s health. He isn’t by blood their grandfather. He has a daughter and clearly doesn’t deny her anything. (We never even get the impression he has met Sergei or his family at all).


Vlad and Elena chat. She says she needs the money by the 20th. He says will give his answer in a week. There is a clear power divide between the two. Also as he uses the term ‘hedonist’ and she doesn’t understand the word so he is also implied to be far better educated than her. she does house cleaning. he will go to the gym. there is tension between them. is a blunt kind of person. no romance just grabs her wrist and says ‘come with me’ in order to initiate intimacy in the bedroom. Everything has its place. She giggles so it’s not against her will but certainly he clearly isn’t someone who takes no as an answer. Their home is a very sparse coldly designed apartment of stark edges etc very art deco but with pine and khaki tones. In contrast Sergei’s apartment is cramped and ‘make do’.


When leaving she gives Vladimir his bag but there is no thanks, good-bye or kiss. He just leaves and gets into his quite expensive looking German AUDI car. This is not a man lacking money. She is not so much a wife as an indentured slave it seems. He listens to classic music as he leaves the multi-story car park. Then changes it to soft rock. A moment later and he has to wait as a line of overall wearing workmen cross the road before him. A car honks behind him… then another long drawn out scene looking at him as he drives to what looks like a docklands area. Soft classical music in the background. It’s the afternoon already. He is at the gym. It seems very exclusive as it provides him with towels before he goes on a track machine. H checks out a young woman on another machine then goes to the water cooler and checks her out again before heading to the swimming pool. He is very isolated as the only person swimming. Yet another drawn out sequence of his swimming a length or two in silence. No one else is around to speak to. Suddenly he has a heart attack and is face down floating in the pool but the lifeguard is reading a magazine and doesn’t immediately notice.


Elena is giving money to someone for a delivery of groceries. she accesses the desk safe and puts documents in it before sorting out the groceries. The phone rings. She is told Vladimir is in hospital. We see a nurse having just finished attending to him as Elena enters. He coughs. He recounts it’s exactly how they met 10 years ago when she was a nurse and he had appendicitis. He wishes he could wake up back then. He jokingly says the girls at the hospital don’t look bad. The doctor and nurse arrive so Elena leaves. He asks her to call his daughter Katya. she does immediately. she tells her Vladimir wants to see her. Katya says not today, tomorrow. Elena wants to meet first though and so in the next scene they meet for coffee.


They meet in a cafe. Katya has a padded coat with her hood up and sunglasses on. She is clearly more well off that Elena or her family.


Elena addresses her as Katya while Katya greets her with ‘hello Elena Analtoievna which immediately shows the animosity she has towards Elena veiled as respect. It is the ‘proper’ way to address older people and was the common mode of address if you ever read the classics of Russian literature where everyone is addressed by their given and patronymic names except those who are close and use diminutives. Katya is indicating they are not familiar in her use of language while, by insisting on calling her Katya is trying to force familiarity. (It might not come across as blatantly obvious this is the situation but I thought the subtitles did a good job of indicating the relationship between them without deviating from the spoken dialogue). Elena tells her of the heart attack and that Vladimir is weak. Katya says dryly he has probably felt his way through all the nurses already. She seems unconcerned by her father’s ailment as it’s probably something that has occurred before. Elena asks her ro go easy on him. Katya begins to smoke after refusing the offer of anything to drink. She is not her for pleasure.


Elena says he needs love and asks Katya to show him that. Katya and Vladimir see each other rarely apparently though Elena doesn’t understand why but says it’s not her business. Katya agrees – its not her business.


Katya never calls him but Elena thinks she should. Katya feels Elena is blaming her, the prodigal daughter, for the lack of contact. Heart attack. Vladimir obviously was as intense with her as he has been with Elena. Katya accuses her of playing the worried wife and congratulates her on it sarcastically. Elena tells her she loves Vladimir. Katya doesn’t deny the relationship is no doubt ‘until death do they part’ but Elena is trying to cure him and by extension Katya. Katya says she doesn’t need Elena’s treatment ‘I am what I am’. She is like her father – unfailingly stubborn and self-assured. Elena asks if she is not sorry for her father, not at all? Though it maybe rhetorical Katya answers. ‘I dont give a flying fuck’. Elena thinks maybe it’s not such a good idea Katya see him today. She says maybe its best only when he is better. In spite Katya comments ‘then why not tell me only when he is better?’ then asks which room ‘papa’ is in.


Elena, in a sudden cut is at a church and the receptionist asks her to cover her head in the house of the lord. This is common practise in Eastern Orthodox churches of course so it is perhaps notable that Elena doesn’t do this automatically. Elena asks which saint she should light a candle in prayer to for her husband. A prayer for health she is told which the priest will pray for during the service and place a candle before saint Nicholas and the mother of God. she asks where those icons are. so clearly she is not a very religious person but is going through the motions… she goes to do it and prays making a sign of the cross. Is this truly out of desperation or is she playing the role of the good wife?


Back at the hospital what to me seems a pivotal scene occurs. If this scene was omitted then Elena would be unquestionably a protagonist but with this scene we question the morality we have seen her so earnestly ‘acting as the good wife’ Katya mocked her as.



Vlad is still in the bed with Katya having poured herself a drink and drained the glass. She has on a long white coat draped over her shoulders in the Mediterranean style like a catalogue model. She stands at the window seeming as though she is only here out of obligation.


Vlad says ‘[he] doesn’t see [her] much these days. She mocks that ‘[he] only saying this because [she] is stood by the window’. ‘Not in that sense’ he retorts. ‘There is no sense’ she rebutted. He mocks when he looks at her ‘maybe that is true’ and she replies ‘maybe then its a good thing [he] doesn’t see [her] so much then’. She goes to his bedside and tells him that she was ‘never his reason to live’. ‘And thank God as they say’ she adds sarcastically.


He tells her she is wrong but she adds that ‘money has always been [his] only reason for living’. He asks if she is ‘tallying up [his] life’ telling her ‘[money] is important to [her] too’. Though she denies it. He says ‘probably because [she] has never had to earn it [her]self’. ‘Maybe because [he] spoilt [her] she retorts giving her everything on a plate which he takes a s a compliment.


‘You know I love you, keep it coming’ she replies smiling/smirking. This is how they interact so it seems confrontational but is normal for them.


He ‘doesn’t know what [she] is making him pay for’. She mocks ‘[he] is priceless’. He ‘doesn’t know why [she] plays these word games’. “Games help children come to terms with the cruel laws of reality’ she says. Children is the word he picks up on. She says she isn’t pregnant. ‘Too bad’ he answers as it would ‘sort her out’. she says she is sorted – ‘alcohol and drugs only on the weekend. It’s clean living now’ although, she adds, she is ‘still getting sex and drugs under control… but im working on it, trust me’.


she unshoulders one side of the coat onto the chair she is sat on. he asks if she is smoking in the hospital. she asks ‘why, [he] paid for a big suite (private room) and does what [he] likes. he asks if she is serious so she takes the coat off and declares she will go to smoke where she is allowed. he asks her to hold on and asks where she got this [attitude] from?
“Genes, Dad, Heritage, A rotten seed. We’re all bad seeds. Subhuman.” he tells her to go have some babies as maybe they will turn out differently. She informs him ‘there is no such thing as different nor do[es she] feel like experimenting. its painful, expensive and pointless’. he tells her ‘everything with [her] is pointless’, and that, ‘those are stupid points to avoid that responsibility’. she tells him ‘it’s irresponsible to produce offspring who will be sick and doomed when the parents themselves are too. Doing it because everyone else does, because there is ‘some higher meaning’ to it all which is not ours to comprehend since we are just its executors. She indicates that by that logic ‘shit must be tasty as millions of flies can’t be wrong’. ‘And’, she adds, ‘in case [he] hadn’t heard the world might end soon’ mockingly.


he laughs and says ‘its strange but [he] feels better listening to her’. she tells him ‘that’s exactly why you breed – to suck the life from your children by asking questions like ‘where does this all come from”. he laughs. saying ‘[she] is a twit sometimes’. she smiles laughing and thanks him embarrassed slightly.


He tells her he loves her very much and offers her his hand which she asks if ‘we can do without’ but he insists. she mocks ‘what one won’t do for money’ they tease each other and he has her kiss him. they both smile embrace to kiss and are happy.


Critically here Katya has declared one of the aspects of Vladimir’s morality which he must have held in his earlier years but has set aside in old age. it feels as if she is mockingly quoting back to him his own sagely advice from her childhood. Why have children when the parents themselves are wretched? Could we not consider Sergei’s family to be such people? An adult son who cannot take care of his own family and seems to be relying on his mother to get him funds so his son, who he cannot provide for, can avoid the responsibility of being enlisted as he is clearly not fit to enter higher academia under his own steam? During the conversation they mention money but it never a case of her asking for it or what amount. It could be interpreted that they use money as a substitute for love but her it seems more plausible that although Vladimir clearly does give her money and she has a dry sense of humour they do care for each other but prefer to maintain a distance emotionally because ‘its easier’. Although during the film Vladimir notes he doesn’t see Katya often it is not said with any negative context and he doesn’t express a wish to see her more often. Physical distance allows they to have their own space but in direct contrast we have Elena who gets on a bus, regularly it seems, and visits Sergei’s family in their cramped apartment. This is not a case of ‘the haves’ versus the ‘have nots’ but rather two lifestyles which contrast so immensely we end up asking how things ever worked between Vladimir and Elena since they have such differing views on life. Just because Vladimir hasn’t seen Katya recently it doesn’t mean neither party cares any less for the other but as we view the majority of the film from Elena’s perspective and she ascribed to the socially dominant view if not narrative tradition that a ‘good’ family member should provide freely for another and be in regular contact with the others then a more passive viewer will immediately see this entire exchange as Katya’s empty gesturing in order to ensure her money provisions are secured.


However look at how she dresses as it tells us more about Katya’s perspective than anyone else’s clothing. Meeting Elena she has a heavy dark coloured padded coat, sunglasses (which a more negative interpretation might take as her hiding her real intent or having a hangover hence why she couldn’t go the previous day to see Vladimir), smokes in Elena’s face without acknowledgement and refuses the offer of a drink. Everything screams ‘closed body language’ and a desire to not engage with Elena even before she speaks. With her father she wears light colours, her jacket is draped over her shoulders and later removed, she drinks an entire glass of water, smokes at a distance moving to leave the room and even when offering mild protest and resistant she complies with her father’s requests and feels at ease talking and joking. You could argue that everything with Katya is a facade I suppose but the funeral scene later seems to weigh the perception to a more positive, if not slightly tragic, view of her.


A baby on a bed with a mobile phone. Elena is caring for her son’s baby while everyone is out working presumably. She jokes about it phoning its mama. she picks it up and they go to the kitchen to watch sparrows out the window. This scene is mirrored at the end.
Next Elena is collecting Vlad who is leaving the hospital and is told to observe his medication schedule carefully, that diet is critical and to do nothing stressful. the doctor recommends hiring a qualified carer but Elena says she worked in a hospital for years caring for people and the doctor says ‘perfect’.


We then have an extended scene of the young nurse from earlier changing the duvet covers and such on Vlad’s former bed, tidying the room and opening the window. Was there a point? Maybe to prepare us for what Elena will be doing as Vlad’s carer and what she had been doing throughout the time she has known him.


Vlad watchs the tv sports in silence. She watches tv in a separate room. She goes to check on him, puts the television off and closes the curtains as he is asleep.
The next morning she serves him breakfast in bed. There is silence. He has something to tell her but she reminds him to take his pills first. He has decided to write a will. She admits it makes her uncomfortable. He says its important and the right thing to do as everyone wonders what will happen when he is gone.


He says ‘the only people [he] has in the world are her and his daughter’. His daughter will inherit almost everything and she as his spouse (so they are married!) will receive a life-annuity. he comments he built it up so long and shot it out in ten seconds once he got to it. He asks if there is something she wanted to say. She hesitates and says yes but not concerning what he was talking about as it seems the right time. It’s about Sasha.


He says her son, Sergei, should be taking care of his own son. she is disappointed. He asks what were they thinking when having him. (So we see what Katya said earlier is either influencing his own mind now or he is only now expressing why he will not pay for the boy’s education). ‘Something happened. An accident. Twice!’ Vlad mocks. She scolds him it’s no laughing matter. He challenges that both children were accidents and now he is expected to feed them.


He says it’s not the money that bothers him and she says ‘of course not… you give it all to your thoughtless daughter’. Apparently this is a conversation they have had many times about the inheritance/money. He says not all of it and that she is sensible but Elena doesn’t know her. Its clear the two sides of the family never integrated well. Elena considers her ‘thoughtless and derailed’ but he doesnt want to hear it. She adds ‘and apparently infertile’. (cultural / generational values dissonance). he says that’s foolish, it’s just she isn’t like he and Elena. She says ‘of course’ sarcastically. She is nothing like her son and his family. (a class barrier between his upper middle class life and her working class family). He agrees and she is exaggerates saying ‘oh God’ yet again. (she seems to call on God often but as seen earlier is not a regular attendee of church so it is just a phrase to her with no meaning).


She asks him what gives him the right to think he is special – because he has more money, more things – it can all change. How he asks. ” the last shall be the first” she quotes which he comments are biblical fairy tales ‘…for the poor and foolish’. ‘Quality and fraternity are only to be found in your Heavenly Kingdom, Elena’.


He dismisses her saying she probably has a lot to do. She agrees and asks if he wants anything. Only that she understood him he says. She says she does but obviously there is friction again. He asks they discuss it like adults. He wants a pen and paper as the lawyer is coming tomorrow so he can sketch out a draft of the will.


An extended sequence of her in the kitchen sorting things and getting the paper.
She is then on the phone to Sergei. He asks how Vlad is. She tells him she mentioned Sasha and that ‘we’ll have to deal with this ourselves… He says it’s your job, as a father, to deal with the problem’. Apparently Vladimir is the only option for the money in her mind.
She says she is upset herself but thinks there is some truth to what Vlad said. ‘We’ll figure it out ourselves. We’ll think of something’. Sergei, having put the phone down, calls Vlad a tight arse. He then goes to the fridge and calls out to Tanya, his wife, asking where his beers are. She asks if he got to baby formula but he is more concerned there was a beer in the fridge before. Sasha enters and is asked if he did his homework. Yes. Silence. Tanya enters and also sits at the kitchen table. Silence as they eat crisps. She asks him the same question.


We see again a contrast between Vladimir and Katya’s relationship with that of Elena’s family who though physically close are emotionally unavailable to each other. Most importantly we have Sergei finally in focus. He considers Vladimir a tight arse for not giving over his earnings to his in-laws. He feels they have some right to claim the money. We get no impression Sergei has done anything to contribute towards Sasha’s university fees himself to at least in part provide for his own son. It almost begins to give validity to Vlad’s expectation that Sergei should be, or at least trying to, provide for his own son.


When asks if the essential baby formulae is there he is more focused on his pleasurable drinking of a beer. The implication being we see he is someone who, like his mother, puts on the front of being hard done by but expects easy answers and external influences to aid them not to do things for themselves. Perhaps this is all a statement on the failure of the old commune mentality where the state provides for you versus the contemporary capitalist society where you get what you earn (however you go about earning it).


Elena therefore goes through a transition at this point where she takes the initiative to claim the money instead of expecting a handout in the last part of the film. She seeks to ‘earn’ the money by taking it by force rather than expect a handout charity Vladimir who can provide it but refuses because Sergei doesn’t match the expectations of him.


Elena is sat in silence at her vanity table and looks at herself in the mirror. She goes to look at the bookcase and takes a thick book to read in the kitchen. A medical encyclopedia. She is looking at medication types and goes to look at Vlad’s prescription. Then she is in the kitchen making a vegetable smoothie to serve him with his pills. She even serves those in a small plastic tumbler like a hospital nurse would. Playing the role of the nursemaid. His room, she comments, is a mess because of the balled up rejected drafts. He says it’s all coming out wrong and he can’t focus/concentrate. She tells him to take his medicine first before anything else. She returns to the kitchen waiting tensely. He calls to her to take the bed table away so he can nap. As she is clearing she takes away his bedside phone so he can not call the emergency services.


She walks past a large collection of family photos on the wall and the camera zooms in on one of her stood alone on a forest path smiling. I assume its her. We haven’t seen this wall before so the photos are hard to focus on in their brief moment we see them and it could easily influence our perception of the characters’ relationships. Maybe there are photos of Vladimir or Katya with Elena’s family which would be a massive indicator of their relationships. It is definitely out of keeping with the sterile environment of the apartment we have been presented so far in the film. Silence. We cut to her frowning and waiting pensively. Silence. She moves about and finally goes to check. she puts her head against the door to his room before opening the sliding door. and sees he is dead. She crumples to the floor before going to check his pulse. She tidies the room removing all evidence of his drafted will before checking it and burning the crumpled pages in a glass bowl. She watchs the flames before then dousing them and putting the extractor fan on. She is flustered. She places the box of medication next to his nightstand.


Next we see her sat with a doctor who is incredulous that no one told her to abstain [from sex though they don’t say it]. ‘It is strictly prohibited after a heart attack’. Like little kids, i swear. Dumb teenagers have more sense’ he laments. She says he could be a bit more tactful. She is playing the bereaved wife just as she played the nurse and the concerned wife.


Katya arrives at her father’s funeral with a handful of long stem roses dressed exactly as she was at the cafe. Coincidence or is this to subtly indicate that she is not as frivolous with the money she received as Elena no doubt assumed? Does it symbolise she has shut herself off emotionally again? We see from Katya’s face that she is having a hard time to hold herself in and not break down. We see her sit down and everyone grieves in silence… except Elena who, as Katya had commented earlier, plays her role well as the grieving widow. She is comforted by someone in a military uniform. Who is he? We do not know. We see none of Elena’s family there so must assume it is only Vladimir’s associates. Maybe this man is who inspires Vlad to believe the military to be a valid option for Sasha. Perhaps it was not out of spite he commented that it was the best school but having seen how well this man turned out? We cannot know but again are given options on how to see the events of the film. People stood outside are called in for the final farewells segment of the ceremony.


Next we see Elena lying in her own bed in the apartment running her hand against the wall. Her family haven’t appeared to console her after the death it seems. she gets up and sits at her vanity table brushing her hair as she did at the start of the film and pinning her hair up. Vladimir is gone but nothing has changed. This is her routine. It becomes more apparent that perhaps he was the burden to her rather, as she presented it, that he resented her. She is the one who created the distance between them not him possibly.
We cut to Katya lying on a sofa as bells chime. The camera remains as she slides down and the church bells continue. No trousers on. She is exposed both physically and emotionally. The world moves on but her world has become static. (I forgot to note down what her apartment looks like but there is a lot of natural light and stylish, if utilitarian but definitely not flamboyant, furniture).


Then a cut to Elena with her face lit in profile but otherwise a scene of pure black and silence. She opens the window on Vlad’s now empty but tidied room. We hear the sounds of traffic outside. She is in the kitchen listening to a cooking show eating porridge. We see the screen of the TV reflected on one of the cabinets of the kitchen. The people are comparing various sausages and their worth/quality. What was her relationship with Vladimir worth that she so easily killed him? What quality of a person is she, and by extension her family, to benefit from his death so easily?


Elena, in a later scene, opens the desk and is removing things and putting them into a parcel she puts in her handbag. She checks herself in the mirror and leaves. It was dark here but the windows are all open and sunlight pouring in as she sits down in the living room area. Classical music plays. The phone rings. She goes down to the taxi she ordered. She is putting on her facade again.


We see her look listlessly out of the window of the yellow cab which mirrors Vladimir’s car drive earlier in the film.


In a long shot down a corridor we see a waitress prepare tea. actually its the lawyer’s office which is all pastel creams and window allowing natural light to flood in. The lawyer had visited Vladimir at the hospital but hadn’t documented his wishes, as required by law, in order for them to be binding. He states he is forced therefore, due to a lack of a will, that the principle of legal succession will enter into force. He left no debts otherwise she would be liable to creditors. (So his affairs were in order so as not to burden her it seems). We see Katya sat intensely listening to him with her hair down. She has a blazer, its sleeves crumpled up to the upper arm, and a water effect, wave patterned, blue and white top on under it which seems to denote transition from a spoilt daughter to an adult woman in her own right. No make up of note. Casual smart. As he died Elena is entitled to a portion of the property acquired during marriage i.e. their share of the common property. Katya draws her cigarettes from her pocket. Elena also inherits an equal portion of the inheritance on an equal basis as the other heirs in regards to his personal property.


However, in this case as they were married only just over 2 years, (so during the 8 years of the relationship they were common law partners or having an affair – it is hard to tell as we never hear anything about Katya’s mother) and no common property was acquired. So there can be no talk of a spousal share. Elena looks tense wearing a simple button up cardigan top and her hair pinned back. Elena is in control of herself but, with her hair down, Katya is not its implied in the visuals of the costume design. Elena will only inherit on an equal basis with Katya his common law and personal property. As, to his knowledge, there are no other heirs it will be divided between the two of them.


Katya mentions her father kept a sizeable amount of money in his home safe. (How would she know? Obviously he told her or we have been misled and she has been to visit him just not as often as Elena visit’s her son’s family). Elena claims there was nothing. Katya challenges this. Elena asks she believe her.


He asks if they would like a break as Katya gets up to smoke but she says continue ‘Right, Elena Anatolievna?’ she says and Elena agrees. Katya knows something happened but her hands are tied. She can only suspect and speculate as Elena was thorough in removing any evidence of her actions. It’s the words of a grieving widow against a grown daughter who still received money from her father.


We see Katya smoke often – which is common in Russia so perhaps not something of note but we could take it as her coping mechanism for stress. Meeting Elena is stressful as this is a woman who has ‘intruded’ into her father’s life without bringing anything Katya would consider a benefit to him. When in the hospital she is with her father who just had a heart attack and this too is stressful. We do not see Katya smoke at the funeral (I might be wrong about that) and her apartment – why? Is smoking only something to be done in the presence of others? Is it a social thing? Or, in her grief, she abstains from it. But the habit returns and she needs a cigarette to calm down when she knows Elena has taken the money but cannot prove it. But to reiterate smoking is not as taboo as it is here so maybe it is foolish to interpret it as anything other than what it is at face value.


Next Elena is on a train platform. She is sat alone and overhears conversations. (Unsubtitled sadly as they would probably act as a Greek chorus as the television shows do in this film). The train stops. A muffled voice calls out over the tannoy. People move through the cabin and the door squeakyly opens and closes. The train moves as she looks out the window. A dead white horse lies at a level crossing being inspected by a group of men stood over it. Symbolic – of what I haven’t a clue. Loss of innocence, death of the breadwinner, come to your own conclusions.


Smoke billows out of some cooling towers near Sergei’s apartment. Elena goes up and gives Sergei the money from the safe. Thick bundles of cash. How much? More than they could ever need. He says this is something they should drink to. Elena is beaming with joy at seeing how elated her family are. he asks if there is anything to drink and Tanya says there is something in the fridge. The baby is on Elena’s lap but Sasha is nowhere to be seen. Tanya pulls out a bottle of wine hidden above the kitchen’s upper cabinets. Was this her secret stash? It’s the only bit of characterisation for her we would get in the film if so. Sergei says ‘let’s drink to Vladimir. He did one decent thing in his life, at least’. Ungrateful parasite. Elena suggest they drink to Sasha. #she doesn’t even want to acknowledge Vladimir now she has her ill-gotten gains. Sergei calls to his son and gets a ‘what’ shouted back disrespectfully. He comes into the living room. Sergei calls him ‘college boy’. Sasha asks about the money and Sergei teases that Sasha has never seen so much in his life. As if Sergei has?


Tanya suggests toasting to a new life. Sergei tells his mother they have another surprised for her. Tanya and he are having another baby. She thinks this is wonderful. Sergei says if he has a boy he will call it Vladimir. Tanya hopes it’s a girl. Elena says ‘Yeah, a girl would be better! To a girl!” they drink to the toast. Tanya tells Sergei to go easy on the wine to which Sergei challenges ‘dont rain on my parade woman’. So they will have another child they couldn’t provide for and now have a windfall which they will likely waste having had no experience of dealing with such an amount of money.


The electricity to the apartment cuts out suddenly leaving them sat in the dark. Sasha mocks ‘Game over’. He had been playing games earlier and it seems this is the one note of his character. He speaks not as someone with his own mind but parroting the words of others from his limited experience.


Sergei says it’s probably just the circuit breaker. Elena grips at his arm so tight Sergei says she is going to break his arm. Is she scared of what might happen to him knowing that anything could happen? Anything like a wife killing you with prescribed medicine? Is she becoming a bit like Lady Macbeth? No. But it’s nice to think there would be consequences to her actions. Sergei goes to check and notes ‘looks like the whole building’s out.’ A neighbour calls back to him ‘the whole world!’ “Arseholes” he mutters as laughter is heard down the corridor from the gang of young men.


Someone calles ‘Hey Aleksei” as they check the circuit breaker box but no one knows whats going on. The whole blocks been cut off. ‘Arseholes’, Sergei reiterates, ‘they cut and we pay’ but Aleksei tells him to forget it. Sergei takes no responsibility for his own circumstances choosing to project it onto others. Now we really are challenged to see Elena’s earlier portrayal of the family in a positive light. There is an old saying regarding ‘who you are in the dark’ and we are being exposed to how there was some truth to the dim view Vladimir and Katya held of Elena’s family. The gang of youths walk past Sergei and Aleksei with Sasha leaving to go ‘on a walk’ so Sergei tells him to be back by 11.
Sergei asks Tanya if they’ve any candles. ‘why would we?’ she asks. The family doesn’t make plans for the future they live in the moment and so their circumstances are their own fault. They would prefer to buy beer and computer games rather than invest in their future. It becomes more apparent Vladimir was the back up plan for his money not a valid relative who was part of their family.


We, as an audience, begin to wonder if the division between Vladimir/Katya and Elena/Sergei et al was, as suggested earlier, due to the supposedly elitist father and daughter, a mutual disinterest/disdain or in fact spurred by some resentment by the less well-off family who were jealous of the others circumstances?


Sasha whistles calling out to Vitya and Lesha, his friends unseen until now unless they were part of the young gang Elena passed during her first visit to the building, he runs out to where the youths are. They ask what took him so long. He says his grandmother was on his case. She wasn’t and had actually brought him good news but he is ungrateful. Again we are shown that Elena’s family are undeserving of anything Vladimir would have given to them. They thought he chickened out and almost went without him. He gets offended and they tell him to calm down and offer him a drink which he downs so they tell him to leave some for them as he guzzles it. Clearly the sense of entitlement to others property isn’t just a characteristic of Elena and Sergei. He asks if ‘they’ are there. they all leave together. ‘They’ are an unnamed other and in the morality of Sergei’s family ‘others’ are to be hated without challenge or question. Vladimir and Katya are also other so its easy to see how in fact the animosity seems to come from the family Elena views with rose-tinted glasses and not the more privileged pair.


The gang walks down the road and across the dual carriageway telling a driver to fuck off when he honks at them. They go into the overgrowth by the cooling towers where a long tracking one-shot of them approaching the camp fire and they attack the people around it. One shouts ‘kill him’. It’s a gang fight with sticks and rocks being hurled. Sasha runs away as he is chased. He pulls a knife but Dima, of the ‘other’ gang, singlehandedly beats him and runs off with his friend. Sasha lies still. He is dead it seems but coughs and rolls over. A long-held shot as he rises. Elena’s family are easy to judge others but incapable of dealing with the consequences. If Vladimir had not died what would the consequences have been? We can only speculate but it goes without question this is not someone who deserves to be rewarded for his ill-considered actions. Just like his grandmother he resorts to excess violence to resolve matters when he feels he has lost control of them.


Elena is tidying up Vladimir’s flat with the baby crying on the vacant bed with Tanya eventually attending to it. They have moved in there. Sergei asks why they need sliding doors – he could put a wall in and Sasha could have his own room. Already they seek to change their surrounding to suit them rather than adapt. Elena says they can’t decide anything without Katya. Sergei says ‘We’ll figure something out’ echoing her words tellingly from earlier. She doubts it but he is sure. Sasha, as he did at the start spits off the edge of the balcony. A crow caws in the distance and he looks up and as he looks over his shoulder to the interior we see he has a black eye and a scar over his eyebrow.


Sergei asks his mother if they have any beer. She says look in the fridge. So he has moved into Vladimir’s apartment and now drinks his beer assuring the audience of his parasitic attitude. We hear the TV as he walks out on the balcony with his beer.


As the camera pans across the apartment we hear a contestant on a dating show (similar to blind date) saying ‘I don’t think it matters whose prize you are’
Another ‘he’s got qualities i like. he leads an interesting life, he’s got kind eyes’.


Walking past his son Sergei tussles Sasha’s hair. There seem no consequences to Sasha’s gang fight – if anything this seems to imply that Sergei approves of his son or, like his mother does with him, views his son’s actions through rose-tinted glasses.


Back in the room we hear the presenter ask ‘Choose Katya or Dasha, there’s no difference… whichever one takes your fancy.
You’ll be a trophy!’ other people on the TV say ‘that was so cool, you were better than all of them. Don’t listen to anyone’.


Elena, Tanya and Sergei are sat watching the TV. His arms are outstretched as though he already owns this place. His mother at his right arm but Tanya sat over on another seat. Elena asks if the baby is asleep which Tanya confirms. Tanya remarks ‘Elena Anatolievna, this is amazing!’ and Elena asks if anyone wants tea. Tanya offers to help and Sergei asks Tanya for nuts while watching the pretty women on tv as Tanya tidies the table mirroring the behaviour of Vladimir earlier. He has usurped Vladimir’s lace but is an ill replacement morally as he expects others to provide for him.


We hear the dialogue on TV again: ‘I feel like I am 90 years old, and I want to grumble because you are all younger than me, except Leonid. I think you are all empty-headed bimbos.’
‘Keep it in perspective or you’ll be sitting here until your pension’
The audience on television applaud.
‘She wants a lot, but she doesn’t know what she’s going to give yet’
‘Zhenya what did you think of Lena?’
‘I don’t know what to tell you. Basically… there’s nothing I can say.’


Could we not take the same view of the characters we have seen during this film?


Sasha is still looking out over the balcony and hears young men shouting as they play football. There is a long shot watching the players – some in black t-shirts and the others in orange tabards. Aspiration – this is what Sergei’s family are about but having now gained a better housing situation they are still dissatisfied and desire more. Sasha here still seeks to belong as he looks at the football players but it is aspiration not achievement. Talking of what could be but never making the effort to achieve it for themselves but instead rely on the work of others and if it is not given to them they resort to violence due to their self-assured sense of entitlement.


The baby sleeps turned to the side, just as Vladimir had done earlier, on his vacated bed. Music creeps up as the baby awakens and sits up.


We get the same shot as the start of the film of the window outside Vladimir’s apartment but this time with the family around the table instead of darkness. It’s a bittersweet ending. This image on its own is joyous but what was done to achieve it and if it is sustainable are questions they would rather ignore.


The cycles of behaviour continue unchecked. Elena is unpunished. The insertion of the scene between Vladimir and Katya if removed would have completely shifted the tone of this film. Selfishness won out. There is no justice. Vladimir provided for both Katya and Elena because, after sacrificing everything to achieve what he has, they are all he truly has. For all Elena knew he may have been giving her a greater share in his will but we will never know and she doesn’t care as she has got what she needs albeit through needless evil. If anything its interesting to see how one added scene can make you sympathetic to characters who in another film we would, as an audience, judge as the outright antagonists.


The BBC’s synopsis suggests to me no one actually watched this film but just lifted the description from elsewhere. There was no ‘saving an inheritance’ here but making sure Elena got as much as she could.


If I had to make a comparison in terms of what kind of narrative this is I immediately recall Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Here similar thematics play out as if Vladimir is holding back Elena’s family from living just as Gregor Samsa did his through invalidity. Both were the breadwinner in their mutual situations. Does Elena have any right to expect Vladimir to provide for her family? It is presented as if this is a given initially and if only he would provide the financing then all her families’ worries would be solved. Were they all resolved at the end? It seemed so although they expect to be able to alter their surroundings to suit themselves, Sergei wanting to put in a wall, and their behaviour isn’t fitting for their surrounds with Sergei being loud and Sasha spitting off the balcony.
They aspired to a better quality of life, have got it from their provider’s efforts, but don’t seem able to adapt to it. Metaphorically Gregor’s transformation is indicative of an incapability to change when his family move on and so he is left behind. In that story after Gregor’s death the family are seen to improve in their situation and so we question the ‘reality’ of the presented scenario. It is well note Kafka stated to never depict Gregor as a ‘ungeheures Ungeziefer’ (usually translated as ‘monstrous vermin’. Was Vladimir such a figure? Was his refusal to give all the money for Sasha to go to university truly monsterous? He at first wishes to consider it, then later gives reason for denying it and in later scenes we see that there was some validity to his assumptions (whether he knew it to be true of Sergei and his family or not is debatable). Certainly how Elena seems to serve him makes him come across, as Gregor did, as a burden to the family after his ability to provide is gone. As soon as he is gone, and Sergei’s family have moved in, Vladimir and by extension Katya are no longer a serious consideration in the family’s affairs though they benefitted from them.


Vladimir worked for his money, or at least we are never told how he gained his money so perhaps it wasn’t indicated well in the subtitles if it was by immoral behaviour during the 1990s. We can only speculate. Certainly he is a man used to getting his way as seen by how he initiates intimacy with Elena and it goes unchallenged he checks out younger women. Is this a sign of villainous behaviour, as Elena presents it, or merely the wandering eye of an alpha male as Katya teases him. We could speculate that he did have Katya’s mother around when he met Elena and thus Katya’s distance and disdain for Elena and her family could easily be explained but it is mere speculation. The more we learn the more we stop seeing Elena as the protagonist of the film and just as its focal point which is an important distinction to make. With the opening scenes we sympathise for her Cinderella like lifestyle of servitude but the more we learn and see the more we question until she crosses the moral line and the truth is slowly unveiled about how worthy of charity her family really are.


We as an audience should interpret the film for ourselves and I feel the BBC’s description of Elena ‘saving’ an inheritance is very leading and almost approving of the villainous behaviour of Elena.


‘but she had good reason to’ someone might declare. She needed to provide for her family and Katya would just waste it. But, in contrast Elena did not earn that money, as we see in the lawyer’s office very few if any assets have been bought since she and Vladimir began their relationship so everything we have seen was purchased by Vladimir’s money alone and as his spouse she has a right to half of it and, taking an Elena sympathising view, we are meant to feel she is ‘cheated’ of the rest of his property because Katya is also a rightful inheritor even though Elena stole the money from the safe rather than declare it. it is a point of argument and that is the point. There is no one universal correct answer here. Elena wants to provide for her family and they need the money. Katya is presented as being hedonistic but we only have the comments of other characters to confirm this. We, as an audience, only have what is presented in frame to interpret and it goes without saying that each of the characters has a bias.


Vladimir: Is he an emotionally cold man used to being in absolute control over people or a man putting up a facade to deceive himself that he is not as isolated as he is presented in all his scenes? He shows love towards Katya and speaks frankly with Elena about why he can’t provide the money. So is his love selfish, as he ensures Katya is okay but ignores others or is he a moral man who comes across cold because he must make such choices so he doesn’t allow himself to be manipulated by charity cases?


Elena: Is she more a live in carer than a lover? Katya is his stubborn daughter who he deeply cares for and despite putting up a front does sincerely reciprocate his love. Sergei’s family we never see him interact with but who Elena expects him to provide for. Is she truly a loving and doting wife or did she aspire to a better lifestyle and only later regretted leaping at the first and easiest opportunity for this? At what point did Vladimir’s fortune become the priority in Elena’s assessment of things – from their first meeting, as she aspired to a better standard of life, or only when he refused to subsidise Sasha’s draft dodge and she had an opportunity to ensure she got her desired result? Vladimir is an emotionally cold person towards her but one who guarantees, due solely to his money, a good standard of life. One which she wishes to share with her son’s family by ‘buying’ Sasha’s way into university so he can avoid the obligatory military service many young men of his age have to. Katya is the daughter from another marriage and things are cold between them. We never see Elena take Katya into consideration only consulting her in order to influence Vladimir when he becomes stubborn and to ‘play the good wife’. There is no love lost between the two. Sergei’s family she sees through rose-tinted glasses doting on them and travelling to see them.


Katya: Is she living off her father’s money or does he, as Elena does, provide to his child without question having never really cut ties as a parent? Does she see him very little because of some issue in the past like his meeting Elena which makes her uneasy? Did she and Elena ever get on at all? Elena calls her by her diminutive but is that sincere or an act as Katya doesn’t return it? Was Katya’s hospital visit all an act to ensure continued financial support? Does she just play the good, if emotionally reticent, daughter to him or does she truly care but has learned from him to keep her emotions guarded behind a facade of dry humour? What we know of her is generally given by other characters but we see her take responsibility by attending the funeral and the lawyer’s office and challenge, as best she could give the lack of evidence, the missing money from the safe. She is a character who practises restraint even at a funeral but at times shows her true personality which are positive characteristics like standing up for herself, mourning her father’s passing and calling out inconsistencies (the missing money). Sasha in contrast to her is easily controlled and does act out in ungrateful rebellion towards his parents despite being clearly spoiled by them.Is it just teenage rebellion or signs of him growing into an immoral adult who sees aggression as an effective tool to resolve conflict and get what he wants?


Just like Vladimir she puts on a front of being cold but it is a facade that is easily broken between the mutually loving father and daughter. Or maybe you think they, either one or both, are lying when no one else, except the audience, is watching which is a possible perception of the scene. Elena is an unwelcome figure to Katya. We must ask is Katya unaccepting, believing her mother (who I think is never actually mentioned) should be the only woman in Vladimir’s life and Elena therefore is an unwelcome interloper? Or does she know Elena to have never been a loving person and clearly only there for the inheritance? Katya I don’t recall mentioning Sergei’s family except when Elena mentions them and expresses the same view as her father: Sergei is a grown man and should provide for his own family not expect handouts.


Do we as an audience view Vladimir’s money support as being obligatory due to familial ties or as an act of charity Elena expects of him without compensation? ‘But she has put up with him for years!’ someone cries. And? There were other things Elena could do to support her family but she expects Vladimir’s money, which we later learn was all but completely earned before his meeting her, to be her money also. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too.


Certainly we don’t see Sergei or his family make any express effort towards keeping Sasha out of the army themselves. If anything it seems like an inevitability and something that would draw him away from the gang lifestyle he seems to be aspiring too. Of course in the 90s the people who profited the most were unscrupulous business men or criminals and Vladimir must have been one or the other we assume but both required risk and effort. Sasha wants the easy route, the criminal route, but in contrast we have Vladimir who worked for his lifestyle and who is resistant to giving someone he isn’t responsible for an easy life though he spoils Katya as a doting father. you could argue he is making up for past indiscretions but it is, like many things regarding his past, speculation on our part.


We can take the procession of events as either Sergei’s family fully expecting Elena to get the money for them or that, unspoken, there is a belief that Sasha would benefit from the army – after all when we focus on Sasha he is either involved with the gang of youths (and later is beaten up because of it) or playing computer games (which is quite lazy ‘older generation’ imagery for wasting time just as for their generation watching television would have been the equivalent though it’s now presented in a less judgemental way).


Sasha is the one character in the film we have focus on (Tanya plays the generic background wife and has no impact on the narrative whatsoever) where we do not have the option of interpreting his character. At the start he was heading out to be with the gang, then denied this he sits playing computer games and his father tries to bond with him while doing so to explain why he can’t, and then later Sasha, having defied his parent’s choice, is involved in a gang fight with the final scene of him being one where he is spitting off the balcony the family has moved into.


If this was an American film there would be a direct-to-video sequel where Elena tries to kill Katya too so she can get all the inheritance or thriller where Katya gets revenge for her father’s murder. Instead we are left with the image of a family given more than they deserve and wanting to change it to suit them rather than adjust and ‘improve’ themselves. Parasites. Parasites who leave us questioning if Elena began her relationship with Vladimir because of the prospect that his money would improve her family’s life. A selfless individual to those who sympathise but a parasite to those who see her behaviour for what it is: a lazy answer to universal struggle and one where she speeds the desired result up and steals the money from the safe getting half of his lifetime’s accrued assets for a few years of a passionless relationship having, as Katya puts it, played the role of the good wife.


Summary review: Elena is a divisive character and one who raises interesting questions about morality and society. The film is one I definitely recommend as long as you understand it is a slow-paced drama and it is all about characters’ interactions and coming to your own understanding of who is or is not sympathetic. Nadezhda Markina and Elena Lyadova are both fantastic in their roles and I hope to see them in more though all around the cast is tremendously strong. It is a film which is better reflected on, shared and discussed with others as there is enough space here to raise questions of morality and society’s expectations of individuals. There is no justice in the world – just your survival and ensuring the survival of those you love.


Credits

Elena – Nadezhda Markina
Vladimir – Andrey Smirnov
Katerina – Elena Lyadova
Sergey – Aleksey Rozin
Tatyana – Evgeniya Konushkina
Aleksandr – Igor Ogurtsov

Director – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cinematography – Mikhail Krichman
Producer – Aleksandr Rodnyansky
Writers – Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev
Music – Phillip Glass


Quite a rambling review but the points are made. You could also take other readings of the narrative I didn’t touch upon such as how it reflects the failure of the social values of the Communist era where the emphasis isn’t placed on the individual to provide for society but of how much society can provide for the individual. Questions of how this reflects the inherent corruption of the Soviet system which has been internalized by those who needed to cheat the system just to survive and now expect to be provided for. It could be seen as a ‘morganatic marriage nearly a century after the October Revolution’ as someone said. You could even go as far as to argue it represents the conflicts of the early twentieth century in which the Tsar, having failed to successfully provide for his people, was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. It would be a bit of a stretch but it could be done.


Yet again I have an issue with WordPress’ layout system so everything has to be sectioned off so it isn’t a massive block of text…


Comment, Like, Follow – All are welcome. What was your view of the film if you have seen it?