1944 (Estonian WW2 film) Synopsis and Review

1944 is a 2015 Estonian action war drama film directed by Elmo Nüganen. The film first premiered in February 2015 in Berlin, Germany, before its release in Estonia and other Northern European countries. It was selected as the Estonian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.

The film is set in the year 1944, from the Battle of Tannenberg Line (25 July – 10 August 1944) to the Battle of Tehumardi in Sõrve Peninsula (October – November 1944) and is shown through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who had to pick sides and thus fight against their fellow countrymen. Choices had to be made, not only by the soldiers, but also by their loved ones.

The film focuses on the individual in the context of the war rather than war itself, and shows the war from both perspectives – those of the Estonians in the Red Army and in the German Army.

The film was funded by the Estonian Film Institute, Estonian Ministry of Defence, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and private investments.

During the run of the film Estonian, German and Russian are spoken.

Excuse me not using names for the most part but in war films everyone seems reduced to stereotypes and can you honestly say, barring the central characters, you ever remember the names of the entire cast during these – most of whom die shortly after their ‘provide a minimal amount of character development by showing a picture of family which foreshadows they’ll die in the next scene’ moment?

Synopsis

We open on text:

‘In 1939, Soviet Union and Germany sign a Treaty of Non-Aggression. A week later, World War II begins. In 1940, Soviet Union annexes Estonia. 55 000 Estonians are mobilized to the Red Army. In 1941, Germany occupies Estonia. 72 000 Estonians are mobilized to German armed forces. Since German Army, Wehrmacht, accepts only German citizens, Estonians have to fight in Waffen-SS and other military units. Now in 1944, the Red Army is back on Estonian border.’

The subtitles at the start confuse ‘German’ and ‘Germany’ while omitting the definite article. Great start… and they move too fast to read for the last sentence or two. I notice once or twice later the subtitles seem grammatically wrong again and suspect they were done by someone whose not a native speaker or was put under severe enough time constraints they didn’t double check their work though for the most part it’s fine.

In the trenches the fast shakey camera makes effective use of the limited perspective.

OF course it lacks the ‘Hollywood sheen’ but in some ways that works in it’s favour. Also the minimal use of music during the charges of soldiers so as to not glamorise events and give way to moments over the stark depictions of combat.

One or two have camouflage on their clothing which I assume isn’t period accurate but might be. It’s the issue of so little coverage of World War 2 events which are not explicitly form German, American, French resistance or British perspectives. As a western viewer you automatically assume the attackers are Fascists but in fact it’s the Soviet forces or as seems to be the films preferred nom de plume the Red Army.

The quieter moments in the trench barracks feel far more effective as we focus on the actors and this doesn’t require big flashy events. The story of the people involved and their motivations rather than the glorification of war. Stories of how they dealt with the situation they were in and the sense of losing oneself – the loss of personal identity as a pawn in the motivations of others.

After proceeding under cover of darkness the music has a continuous tense cord with a few stark notes. THey join some Danes. This really is a narrative not explored in the West at all.

A fat Russian chokes a man. Few if any Russians would be that fat.

Some soviets surrender and are show from behind by the protagonists.

The German commanders appear. A government man appears and congratulates them and spouts the party line they’ve proved the Estonians belong to the Aryan race. He hands out signed photos of Hitler thinking they would get a wooden or iron cross

The poem ‘soldiers mother’ plays over the radio as they mock Hitler and one returns saying the Dutch have their own toilet paper and gave him pack of cigarettes.

One soldier shows the medal his father gained in World War 1/ its all that’s left of him. An argument breaks out as there are Estonians on the Soviet side. What will they do when they face their countrymen?

Outside propaganda plays over the tannoy and they begin to sing to drown it out as they move through the trenches.

The look out says its been quiet. When one of the brothers takes over a sniper shoots him in the head and the brother left behind is in shock a moment before beginning to cry. They give him something to drink. Later one reflects that his uncle in Tallinn told him not to go but he had to as there were arrests being made. An older soldier comes to relieve him and asks if being stubborn will bring his family back from Siberia . He knows it wont. They speak of the war and what its for. Whether they’ll gain their countries independence.

A procession of civilians walk along a road as military vehicles pass them. One soldier thinks going to Tallinn would be better as they could escape via a ship to Sweden. They shoot in the air to scare people off. A self defence force leader, clearly a civilian as he’s in an suit but with an armband, asks if they’ve spare ammo. He is gives them the weapons they ceased and the man jokes with out ammo they’re no batter than clubs.

A woman stops the procession and makes a man throw away furniture and take people on his cart. The soldiers joke she is the real furher. ‘men like cow’s udders’ she says as she loads a child into it.

A plane flies overhead. They take cover in the forest. It begins to fire down on everyone. Bombs are dropped. Sainas goes to save a child but ironically is shot dead while the child is fine. Another runs for the child and saves her just in time. The driver of the soldiers truck put sout a d fire and they go to escape as the reds will be there any moment. Main guy says his sister has the same doll as the girl but she is for away now. They decide to load people onto the truck. Injured to hospital refugees to Tallinn. The girl wants her doll to tell main guy something. He holds it to his ear and after he return sit the truck leaves and the soldiers walk away in another direction on foot as a folk song plays. A storm brews as they walk across the countryside.

They see due to the open landscape there’s no way to retreat if they cant hold the location along the road on the edge of the forest. A senior member tries to rouse them with a speech of how if the Russians beat them back they’ll retake it tomorrow. Then they begin to dig the trenches. A passing man offers them food. All quiet along the western front is mentioned. Again the leader tries to rouse them about their flag flying in Tallinn but the main guy is more pessimistic. They laugh and eat. It is a moment of peace in the war.

Sept 20 a motorcyclist goes past them at speed as they’re hidden in the dry grass. A tank and supply trucks procession is heading their way. They snipe the commander and fire rockets at the tanks.A sniper takes out their sniper. Many of the characters we have been following are wiped out.

They realise they’ve been fighting Estonians on the Soviet side. Their worst fears. What will they do now it’s a reality. Both sides stare at each other. Mournful music plays out. This is the reality of fighting a war begun by others and for their agendas. The soldier who killed the poetic guy looks at the documents in his pocket and seizes them before closing the corpses eyes and laying him to rest.

At a camp we follow the Communist side. They realise it was ‘normal Fascists’ they were fighting. The commanding officer berates them then leaves. The secondary commander tells them to bury the dead and stay out of the way of the NKVD officers.

A man asks if they’re burying fascists with their own. ‘its the end of the road for everyone’ someone replies. They pity that this is how things have turned out as they bury the dead and mark them. 31 dead red army soldiers.

The same old couple who served food to the fascists now serves it to the communists. They soldiers have meat and give some to the couple. It is German stuff they had ceased. The bearded soldier pities them as the couple have nowhere to to and will be labels kulaks and sent back if not to the Gulag.

A glasses wearing soldier shows a photo of his family and everyone knows his spiel off by heart and call it before he says it. They pass through the golden fields and reach Tallin in Sept 22.

Masses of Red army soldiers are there and propaganda plays over the radio accompanied by upbeat band music.

Beard tells killer to be happy and dance. The soldiers are fed and enjoy. Else where people pick through the rubble and inhabit dark silent buildings. Killer Juri visits the apartment of the dead poetic fascists woman and gives him the letter which he took from the corpse. She reads it in silence as we hear the dead man narrate his words talking about family.

Juri asks if he can help as she is tearing up. He removes his boots. She asks how he got it. Karl was her brother. She asks if he died in battle. Juri confirms it. How does he know. Juri says he witnessed it. The family were taken to Siberia. It broke Karl who blamed himself for what happened. She asks of him. He was conscripted in 39. She asks why he didn’t fight back. They were to disciplined to disobey or were cowards he admits. His family? The soldier is are his family but there’s less and less of them. She says he and her brother were similar. The innocent feel guilty. The guilty feel nothing.

She says he must be hungry and cooks for him. She watches him as he eats in silence. He takes out a cigarette and she offers him an ash tray. Its her uncles apartment not hers. They fled two weeks ago by boat to Sweden. March 9 the red army flattened the city. Juri says he was told it was Germans. She insists only women children and the elderly were there.

A little girl drew her something at the orphanage and she goes to show it but they’re interrupted by the radio. A moment passes between them and we see them walk in the park together. bird song. Slow piano. ITs not a romance as much as just comfort in kindred souls. She goes to check a door and find sit open. They go inside the church. Their footsteps echo.

She asks if he is staying long. Or will he move on? Where to? To Saaremaa he replies. She smiles to him takes his hand which fluster him and says they’re alone. He puts his arm around her hesitantly. She says she would forgive the one who put their family ane on the list to be deported. A name Jogi was on it. Juri doesn’t react. She recalls how they lived before the war smiling and falling asleep on his shoulder.

In the morning she gestures he write. She asks his family name. ‘Tull’ he lies. He is Jogi. An NKVD man calls him to the comrade captains car. He says that they’ve fought many battle together but bourgeois nationalists are still there. He says he is young and has time for everything including hanging around at night.

The captain asks who the woman was. They had observed him. Juri lies its his sister. The Capt. says he doesn’t remember it from his file. He asks Juri to report any anti-soviet efforts to him. Juri looks unsure.

17 Nov The soldiers move out across the countryside passing a form. One breaks rank and bearded soldier , Prohhor, is ready to shoot but it told to hold. The guy is at his home town so they allow him to call to the other residents. Beard mocks his grandmother said Estonia was small but not this small..

The soldier notes no one is there sadly. After a moment he says that he’ll go find them something to eat.

At night the commanding officer , Juri, staff sergeant calls on a soldier to have the three replacement soldiers come in to speak to him at the lit table he is writing at. He notes from how they stand they fought for the Germans. He tells them to forget their past and kept their mouths shut. Juri tells farm boy to feed them as well ads the others with the potatoes he fried. Farm boy tells them eat as much as they like as there is no point leaving any for the rats.

Juri asks if he heard anything about his folks who had abandoned the farm. All the farms in the area were destroyed, the people deported to Germany. He reflects the war will be over in a year or two and everyone will be back then. ‘My house is whole and I’m alive’ he remarks before leaving.

Juri later details his strategy plan to the leading soldiers.

They all drink some vodka from a bottle before farm boy remarks that Kreml (the Kremlin… Again refer to my view the subtitles were not done by a native English speaker) wanted to see him.

We next see Juri report to the Comrade captain who was cleaning his handgun. Juri hears the gun click as he closes the door but in fact the captain was putting it away before inviting him to sit. He calls on Juri to toast ‘to the victory’. The captain notes Juri got 3 replacements and asks if he checked them, Juri says he did. ‘Juri you are from the right family and have made the right decisions so far. Just like your father in his time. You haven’t applied for the party membership?’ Juri answers no. ‘That’s even better. You’ll be trusted more. You’ll go far. We’ll send you to study, and you’ll get an officer’s rank. You’ll be the company commander soon. We’d make a good team.’ Juri notes the company already has a commander, Captain Viires, as the Comrade Captain walks away. ‘That radish… Red outside, white inside. Those kinds of guys should be kept an eye on. Don’t spoil your life, Juri’

The next day, November 19, the cannons are being loaded as battle ships fire on the soldiers proceeding along the shoreline. Mines are on either side of the road. The tanks runs over a corpse. Shells hit the tanks. Many of the infantry are taken out by the impact. Still they press forward. One soldier breaks rank and runs across a field only to be killed by a landline. The soldiers get pinned down by machinegun fire and rockets shooting the tank. The tank fires on the machine begun wall blowing it up but still the infantry have to charge for cover. The tank knocks out the corner of a hut Fascist soldiers were coming out from. The on foot soldiers split into two groups heading along shallow trenches. One is blown up by a soldier dying holding a grenade and his wrist. They reach the command post and order the people inside to emerge. They then shoot them in cold blood though they surrendered, They were not ordered to shoot. Juri asks the man if he thinks it’ll bring Sarah back. The man doesn’t answer.

Later Juri sits alone outside smoking. Beard is hunched over at the table. He asks if Juri cant sleep. Juri says her cant forget the guy whose letter he delivered to his siste.r Did he tell him? He couldn’t.. But he fell in love mocks beard. ‘You didn’t kill him, the war did’. ‘MAybe God will forgive. Or not.’

Nov 22 they’re on the move again as an overseer captain says one last push and Estonia is theirs. The company Captain tells Juri the political office is interested in him. The captain says its as if they’re eating shit everyday. He had hoped to bring the men home but asks where did he bring them? He gestures for the company to stop its advance, checks and then they move on. They notice movement Fascists in the river crossing. The Fascists shout don’t shoot as their Estonian. The company captain calls for no one to shoot and those in the river to come up. Immediately the overseer/political captain runs up and interrogates them. They were not volunteers and are 16 years old. The Germans wanted to take them but they wanted to go home. The political captain tells Juri to take them and ‘shoot these traitors’. Juri says they’re children. The captain looks back at the cowering boys and announces ‘Soviet citizens who have defected to the enemy must be shot. Staff Sergeant Jogi take your men and obey the order. They were forcefully mobilised. Juri, obey the order.

Juri says he will not shoot them.

The political captain draws his handgun and immediately shoots Juri through the heart. All the men draw their rifles and aim at him.

‘Shoot. Shoot and all your relatives will be sent to the Gulag. [The company Captain faulters and slightly lowers his aim]. Are you scared? That’s right. One must be scared of Soviet Power. Captain Viires. Obey the order.’

The political captain slowly begins to raise his handgun but a shot rings out as he is shot dead through the chest.

It was the bearded soldier.

Viires orders the company to move forward and the boys to go home. Get rid of their uniforms and go home.

Beard stops a moment and kneels at Juri’s side removing his hat. Everyone stops. Beard removes a slip of paper from Juri’s jacket. He crosses himself and everyone stand over the bodies.

We then have a narration of the letter as beard delivers it as Juri had delivered the woman’s brothers letter earlier. An old woman and a girl live with her now. From the orphanage no doubt. Juri wonders, if not for the war, had they met after the war, maybe in the church, if he could face her and tell her the whole honest truth. ‘We need to start from a blank page. This is from Juri Jori, the Red Army soldier who killed your brother in a battle. I couldn’t tell you eye to eye. You are the only one left to me. Please forgive me if you can.

Then a black screen with white writing:

‘To all who fought and suffered in the name of freedom.’

Review

I think the first thing to be said is that the title is so basic you are likely to never look at this film if you see it on the shelves in a shop or a list on-line. If it had a more distinct title, even ‘ Battle of Tannenburg’, ‘Tannenburg Line’ , ‘Battle of Tehumardi’ or anything as generic, but still distinct, as those I think it would have gotten more recognition as ‘1944’ alone makes it sound like this was one of the laziest by the numbers productions possible when in fact it has a good message, told without demonising bias towards any one party, and provides incite into a perspective on the Second World War not often given a voice in the west. It hasn’t got the gloss of American financed films but the core concept of showing the divide of a nation during occupation by both Fascist and Soviet forces is interesting as there are no definitive ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys barring those who are self interested and seek political power. Everyone is swept up in the course of a war between foreign powers and has to face the reality they will be killing their won countrymen at some point.

If I have one issue with the film it is perhaps that the conflict scenes are bland. I wish perhaps it pushed those to the side as much as could be reasonably expected of a film set in this period involving soldiers and focused more on the characters. The death of the protagonists certainly comes as a shock to a first time viewer but it provides an important lesson I feel is often missing from war films – people have lives and things they are doing which come to an abrupt end because of events. OFten this is given the ‘here’s a photo of my family’ omen of minor characters who you know from that point on are going to be the sacrificial lamb of the films narrative so we see the results of war but the protagonists remain able to carry out their story to completion.

As I have said already I feel the translations for the subtitles on the DVD needed to be proof read as there were a few moments were the grammar went out the window. I have to assume either the translator, and the subtitler, were not native English speakers or there was a severely tight schedule and mistakes were made which leaves it to be criticised at leisure by consumers. Hopefully the company is more carefully in later releases as this is the sort of thing that will put people off buying their products. The DVD also was very bare bones but really I have come to expect that with many Foreign films now that are not released by Criterion, Curzon Artificial Eye or other long established Foreign film DVD makers who offer extensive extras.

The only truly antagonistic figures in the film are the political officers – those who have thrown in their lot completely with either the fascist or Communist forces to have power even if it means betraying their countrymen. Everyone else, for better or worse, only looks forward to when the war is over and they can return to their normal lives. The hardship undergone by civilians is represented by the procession of refugees fleeing their home in the country encountered by the Fascist soldiers.

On a sidenote I personally found the woman suddenly forcing a man to throw away his possessions so it could carry people, when said people had clearly already been on this procession for a long-time alongside the cart, a bit of a double standard. It is symbolically putting people before possessions, which is a good in the moment message, but could represent a willingness to abandon their own culture, represented by the objects that are discarded, in order to survive which seems at odds with the rest of the film’s philosophy of maintaining Estonia as a unique entity after the war’s end. Objects can be replaced of course but this moment in the film felt a bit to forced in and not cohesive with the rest of it.

The sense of Estonian national communal unity is represented by the old couple who serve food to both the Fascist and Red Army groups seeing only fellow countrymen not political sides.

The sense of the nation’s division is symbolised by the brothers from the farm being on seperate sides though on a first vieiwng this might go unnoticed as the brother on the Fascist side only mentions it in passing he is from the farm while we see the brother on the Red Army side return to the homestead. Contrasting this are the two borthers who are both on the Facist side and one witnesses firsthand the death of the other via a sniper.

If anything the bereft sister, who sees both her brother and potential love interest die, seems the anomaly as she seems to live a comfortable life even in the middle of a war torn country when everyone else has either been forced to choose a side or flee their homes. I suppose she offers the contrast to the farm boy soldier who has a home but no one to be there with while she has the orphanage ( or at least the little girl and old woman) in the end thus having a community but nowhere to call her own as she is living in her uncle’s apartment.

Would I watch this again? That is the big question and the answer is… Yes but it isn’t a film I would recommend if you didn’t have an interest in North European/Baltic cinema nor World War 2. In fact I don’t care for the seemingly endless number of films based on World War 2 but this gave a unique perspective similar to War Horse, due to the shifting perspectives of each side being represented, but without the near fairytale tone nor the convenience of it being due to a horse. Both sides are represented equally unsentimentally as external forces having a negative effect on Estonia.

In the end the concept far outweighs the execution sadly. I think with a bigger budget or more unique cinematography it might have been a world cinema classic rather than just a successful film in Estonia which you find cheap in your local supermarket with a bland, non-descript, cover as they hope people will blindly buy anything World War 2 related. Time will tell how it is received in the long run but I feel it was even-handed noting the strengths and failings of each side without leaving the audience with any prejudice save that Estonians were forced to take a side or evacuate which was sadly a truth of the era they lived in and if anything they delivered this message possibly too gently in regards to what happened to citizens. A good message, fair depiction but not a film you will remember long after watching it. The unique Estonian perspective however lends it at least a novelty value for anyone interested in not seeing yet another retread of the ‘America saved the world’ slew of Hollywood depictions nor the more blindly patriotic films of somewhere like Russia.

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

Москва слезам не верит / Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)

Москва слезам не верит a.k.a Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears
Russian Cinema Council Collection

Quoting the DVD case blurb [sic]: “An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. This is a melodrama about life stories of three girls. Three friends Antonina, Liudmila and Yekaterina, come to Moscow in search of their dreams. Sharing a hostel room, the work and have fun together. Antonina soon marries a good man and settles down to raise a family. For Liudmila, Moscow is a sort of lottery, in which you have to pick a lucky ticket. She attempts to conquer this big city, but ends up a loser. The life of the third girl, Yekatrerina, is a contemporary Cinderella story. She had her share of disappointments, but did not despair. In twenty years she built up a career and became director of a big enterprise. A single parent of a daughter, she finally meets the right man and, after long and bitter years of loneliness, finds true happiness…”

So, in case you missed the awkward grammar, I am watching the official international release of the film from Russia and has subtitled done by a native Russian but English as second language speaker. There are one or two times during my copy where the subtitles are awkward. For example there’s one moment where a character remarks ‘We are like personages in a drama’ where the word ‘character’ would be more correct.I will use the translation provided by the DVD so some names like Lyudmila will be appear as Liudmila instead. Also although I refer to Katerina as Yekatrina this is apparently only present on the DVD case. All the signs suggest there seems to have been no proof reading or quality control during the DVD’s production sadly and I am sure it was rectified for later editions.

The film is set in two time periods: 1958, in the middle of the Khrushchev thaw,and 1979, in the middle of the era of stagnation. My DVD copy had two separate disks separating these time periods into two parts. I don’t know why but assume it is because it is a 1999 edition and dual layered discs were not yet commonly used at that point. It is a good breaking point but I don’t think the film had an intermission between these two parts originally.

The three main women represent the 3 stereotypes of women in Soviet Russia.

Antonina is the traditional girl – she marries early on into a secure home life to a husband who is deemed ‘nice by boring’ and has 3 sons.

Liudmila the ‘tart with a heart’ – she dates multiple men gambling on there being better prospects as long as you are willing to take a risk. Liudmila initially seems to have ‘won’ by marrying a sportsman but it is short lived as he is soon retired and borrowing money from her 7 years after their divorce – presumably with no children produced and her working in a dry cleaners looking for the next ‘win’.

Yekaterina is what society would like to believe in – A self sufficient, hard working and educated person who is a productive, successful, citizen overcoming her circumstances. A single mother who overcame difficulties through focusing on her studies in youth, worked hard for a very senior position in her company and was rewarded by the universe with a man who fulfils her. Arguably she is the most recognisable to western audiences as she represents the viewer’s wish fulfilment, common in films worldwide, though it should be noted the film, as part of this wish fulfilment, glosses over the day to day hardships she faced in those intervening 20 years during the time skip which were necessary for her to arrive at the position she is in during the second part.

Perhaps it is interesting to compare them with the men they end up with.

Antonina marries Nikolai early on and settles into a successful, if dull, marriage producing three sons. As Tolstoy said ‘All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. They play little influence in events save to be a safe haven for Lyudmila, who has no one else reliable in her life, and Katerina who has been so career focused she has forsaken all else it seems initially.

Liudmila, ever the hegemonist flirt, marries Sergei Gurin who is a rising sports star believing, at the end of the first part, herself to have hit the jackpot she so often speaks of. However in the second half we find her living alone and he comes begging her to loan him more money – even going as far as becoming physical with her out of desperation. When he is at bars he is recognised and never has to buy his own drink but is left unfulfilled with the hope of becoming a coach now his own career is over. Liudmila continues to flirt with any prospective men – even becoming jealous of a general’s wife who she believes has ‘won the lottery’. She otherwise seems to live vicariously through Antonina, who has succeeded in building a family, and Katerina who has a successful career. This leaves her in the role of acting as a sort of eccentric ‘larger than life’ aunt to the children or at worst a warning to Alexandra of what she will become if she doesn’t begin to learn from her mother’s example of taking responsibility and working hard but continues to rely on others and luck.

Katerina has a relationship with Rodion, a TV camera man (often to be found reiterating his view that TV will replace cinema, theatre, books and newspapers) who after a brief tryst abandons her to raise their daughter by herself. He even has his mother go visit Katerina to tell her to stop harassing him to take responsibility (although it was Liudmila calling to help her friend who had resigned herself to fate). Years later he is sent to interview a senior executive and doesn’t recognise Katerina initially. He then meets with her wanting to see Alexandra but Katerina refuses telling him she has done well enough without him in her life. Towards the end he arrives, unannounced, to Katerina’s apartment and, in anger, she tells Alexandra he is her father. I actually found this story thread didn’t get resolved by the end so, with how Alexandra interacts with Gosha, it is no doubt implied she rejects Rodion. At the start of the second half she is also involved with a married man who is cowardly and so she abandons him soon after we rejoin her. The most important of her partners though is Gosha who she meets by chance on a train going home after visiting Antonina’s dacha. He is a staunchly traditional man but, unaware of Katerina’s successful career, begins a relationship with her often expounding how it is a man’s place to be head of the household. Needless to say he finds out he will not be the highest earner in the house and immediately takes flight, more so over having been lied to than a bruised ego (although it is easy to argue either way considering cultural differences). There is certainly a middle aged Cinderella aspect to her storyline during the second half of the film and how she serendipitously encounters him on the train home after the arranged meetings club fails to find her a match suiting her expectations.

In fact Alexandra could be said to serve as a sort of epilogue to the accumulated experiences of the central female characters. Initially when introduced she seems all but a copy of Liudmila by being self indulgent spending her time listening to music and being no where near as active as the older women were at her age. Instead she seems to be relying on others for her pleasures as did Liudmila by dating various young men and using the dorm’s telephone as her number. However we see her develop once Gosha is introduced. She recognises the earnest morality of Gosha who, unlike her mother, engages with her involving her in cooking and other household tasks. When she admits she doesn’t know how to cook, which is very likely with her career orientated mother, he offers to teach her. Thus she is willing to better herself – not relying on improving her prospects by marriage or fortunate but through doing things herself. When he, without a second thought, goes to aid her boyfriend who has been ganged up on by her former paramour she wants her mother to know but he insists there is no need as this is just what a man should do. She begins acknowledging the value in others – he proves he is who he has presented himself as even though some doubt might have been thrown by how many superlative plaudits his friends bestow on him at his birthday (which he invites the unaware Katerina and Alexandra to thinking it no big thing). He is good for her mother and she recognises this in him even if it means she will now be expected to contribute to the home. When Rodion is revealed as her father, having forced his way into her life and upset her mother, we don’t see her reaction in any significance but considering the final scene it may be implied that she sees Gosha as more of a father figure in that he, without want of compensation, does what he can to fulfil the role acting altruistically towards anyone who needs his help. She has learned the value of hard work but, as evidence by her having a boyfriend, society has moved on but some things remain the same through the generations. So the future seems bright – she is still learning but has a strong community of support around her.

Conclusion
It was very good but definitely is a film of its period. The subtitles, done by a Russian had one or two awkward translations – e.g. someone saying ‘we are like personages in a drama’ where we would say ‘characters in a drama’. The way it was filmed was very 70s and films made in Britain had a very similar look from that period. US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”. I doubt he did as its such a hard concept to depict but certainly he would have seen its heart and that the world over people have similar hopes and dreams despite differences in language and culture.

I guess I have become used to older films being ‘remastered’ as my copy seemed a bit low quality despite being an official DVD from the Russian Cinema Council… But then it was a 1999 edition so maybe someone has improved the quality, in later released editions, since then as HD quality wasn’t a concern at the time.

What really stands out with the edition I have is the extras. Many of the main actors, the director, the scriptwriter and the composer are interviewed. There is a documentary about Moscow and photo galleries. The film comes with the original Russian dub but also a French and an English one. The subtitles come in Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Ironically though the back of the DVD states [sic] ‘Not for sale on the territory of the former USSR’ so it obviously is meant for the international not domestic market!

Aleksey Batalov (Алексей Владимирович Баталов) pretty much stole the show in the second half as Gosha. To put it in context his role is a Soviet version of the ‘manic pixie [boyfriend]’ trope as he seems all too perfect in his portrayal although he does have traditional views about being the man of the house. Such views were falling out of favour in their depiction in the west during the time of the film’s release but it has always been an element of wish fulfilment in romantic films that the female protagonist finds a man who can provide for her both emotionally and financially – so traditional values have never really gone out of fashion. The other characters I can easily imagine being in western films with little if any alteration so look out for that Hollywood remake (if one hasn’t already been made)!

This is one of the keystones of Russian cinema and an essential viewing experience for anyone interested in Russia, Soviet cinema or indeed world cinema. (Albeit I will add that this was filmed during more lenient times so those looking for a Stalinist era depiction, as is the common shorthand imagery used in western cinematic depictions *cough*Child44*cough* need to look elsewhere). The story is easy to follow and compelling. There are one or two moments of very brief nudity but it is very naive and a few moments of physical violence but nothing that wouldn’t be shown before the watershed (i.e. it is safe for all to watch). I highly recommend it.

Cast

Vera Alentova – Katerina Tikhomirova
Irina Muravyova – Lyudmila
Aleksey Batalov – Gosha
Raisa Ryazanova – Antonina
Aleksandr Fatyushin – Sergei Gurin
Boris Smorchkov – Nikolai
Viktor Uralsky – Nikolai’s Father
Valentina Ushakova – Nikolai’s Mother
Yuri Vasilyev – Rodion Rachkov
Yevgeniya Khanayeva – Rachkov’s Mother
Liya Akhedzhakova – Olga Pavlovna, Club’s Director
Zoya Fyodorova – Hostel’s Security
Natalya Vavilova – Alexandra
Oleg Tabakov – Vladimir, Katerina’s lover
Vladimir Basov – Anton Kruglov
Cameo appearances:
Andrei Voznesensky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Georgi Yumatov
Leonid Kharitonov
Tatyana Konyukhova
Pavel Rudakov and Veniamin Nechaev
Just as in Hollywood you might have someone like Bill Murray play a bit part in one scene as a cameo so you have the same here. I cannot say with authority in which scenes they appear but its safe to say many do so in the sequence where Katerina visits the ‘friendship agency’ in the second half where there is some humour about much older men wanting to be placed in the groups with women far too young for them.

Songs from the film

Bésame mucho


By Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina:
Александра (Alexandra)

Диалог у новогодней елки (A dialogue by the New Year’s tree)

By Klavdiya Shulzhenko:
Давай закурим (Davai zakurim / “Lets take a smoke”)


Usually when I review films I go into some depth but I am trying to self edit a bit more nowadays. Hopefully this post is compelling enough though I feel I have left so much out.

I found Star Media on YouTube and it has many interesting Russia films and series on there so I may be watching quite a few of them. Any recommendations of good older films, which they will be more likely to have, are more than welcome 🙂

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.

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?

Eko Eko Azarak 2: Birth of the Wizard (1996)

A prequel to ‘Wizard of Darkness’, covered yesterday, telling us how Misa Kurio, Magical Occult give of Apathy, became the milquetoast badass we know and… look at with indifference as everyone else is cooler.

In today’s film instead of wandering around a school of occult enthuisiasts repeatedly saying ‘I’m a witch’, in the same way Yosser Hughes from ‘Boys from the Black Stuff’ walked around trying to get a job or Groot said ‘I am Groot’, is instead today is a damsel in distress being dragged around a town by her carer as zombified people (but only one at a time) slowly follow them. Classic low budget ‘within the speed limit’ hi-octane action with a shot of Diazepam just in case it blows your mind.

So we begin with little Misa being put through an occult ceremony to indoctrinate her into the lifestyle. The carer is a pretty boy with make up on. Lots of baritone voices and hooded robes. Because of the first film you might suspect these are all teenage girls so they make sure to show the old men’s faces. Misa is scared because this is bad satanic occult magic and she is all about that good magic involving occult pentagrams of protection. Or the old men just scare her as they probably going commando under those robes. We never find out.

Years pass and the pretty boy looks older. Genre savvy Spidey-sense is tingling he is going to die at some point. There is a fat, bald guy stalking them by pretending he is a robotic zombie. He isn’t pretty so obviously he must be evil according to movie logic. Actually he is just a random guy possessed and made to chase Misa and the carer silently.

At some point a police captain gets possessed and shoots his subordinates in a small police hut office as carer and Misa pass through.

‘Taicho-sama, I’ve looked up to you ever since I was a boy! Ever since I played with my friends on the street and saw you patrolling. Taicho-sama! I remember your smile as you watched us play in the park. Taicho-sama! Taicho-sama it’s because of you I wanted to be a police officer! Taicho-sama! Taicho-sama! I lov-“

Bang.

Bang, bang, bang… Bang.

Bang.

Character development. Just like the teenage girls from the first film.We never see any consequences of this ever again.

Then we have a long flash back of exposition. Misa (Kimika Yoshino) is the messiah of the occult, a sacrifice or something like that. Who knows? Who cares? It’s a chase film like Terminator. The flashback gets overly whimsical as if this is meant to be a different genre of movie. Actually this might have been when the starting bit was and we only saw a glimpse at start. It makes no difference it’s all in the past now.

Fight.

Fat man go boom.

End of the fake out antagonist’.

Now a pig tailed girl, who was one of Misa’s friends during the time when she was hiding out in the open by going to a normal high school under her real name, is the new stalker acting like a zombie robot. The drama has suddenly intensified! Will Misa have the strength of character to kill her friend? Oh no pigtails-chan we hardly had time to care for you before you went evil! And because you are ‘cute’ we as the audience must feel this is far worse a tagedy that an overweight adult being possessed and blown up unceremoniously. We will never forget how you used to giggle with your friends and… yup…umm.. that’s it. Character development.

Misa starts reading some mystical script and the room shakes. Cool ‘old guy’ carer, because anyone over 25 is immediately deemed old and over the hill according to Japanese drama, tells her not to do that. Stern face… Stern pout to camera to make the housewives’ knees tremble. She has her locket from the first film. They keep showing it. Oh good is she going to be saved by another ex-machina. Her guardian loses faith. ‘No Sempai don’t lose faith’! They kiss. Well that was kind of awkward. He is definitely a dead man walking now according to movie logic. He tells her he loved her mother. Okay now that is really awkward…

This is no long running TV soap opera drama that’s run out of original storylines and needs to get a ratings boost! Less emotion, more action! Cue battle!

(Cue Pokemon battle music)

  • Carer-kun uses ‘Crush Grip’.
  • Carer-kun tears off Stalker-chan’s arm!
  • Stalker-chan uses ‘Bounce’ and does so around the room while also using ‘Flail’!
  • It has little effect…
  • Carer-kun uses the move ‘Cut’!
  • Carer-Kun cuts Stalker-chan in half!
  • It’s super effective!
  • Stalker-chan is defeated!
  • Carer-kun gains some EXP!

(Cue Pokemon battle victory music).

But shock revelation! He is now vunerable to the robot stalker possession having used the last of his strength for a needlessly dramatic kamikaze attack to defeat Stalker-chan! Oh what dramatic irony! the over protective ally is now the unstoppable purser of Misa who so far has done nothing by herself! Definitely didn’t see that coming.

No not at all.

Honestly…

Within a minute Misa runs into the circular lecture theatre with a pentagram drawn on the floor and corpses strewn everywhere. She is trapped.

Suddenly, without precedent, Stalker Carer-Kun pulls a sword out of his forehead. No he didn’t get stabbed in the head by Misa – that would have our protagonist actually actively doing something and that is ridiculous – nor did he ever allude to this technique. No he just pulls a big old sword out of his third eye chakra.

But don’t worry because Misa does the power speak. Boom he is down for the count.

The end…

…Oh but wait what is this? A space flea out of nowhere? I think it might be.

A girl in an occult robe and using a man’s voice (which is obviously a fetish of this film series) appears!

She summons a very nice looking dragon, ghost, demon, thing…

…Which instantly kills her.

Yup, big bad of the film, who I never saw before, just got wasted within a minute of being introduced. Bye, bye Prototype Cult-chan at least you died a little less ridiculously than your chronological successor.

Misa walks away from the scene. Goes to the apartment she had been living in while in hiding and sees all her friends corpses. Says a Wiccan chant and we are straight into the credits with an inappropriate pop song playing.

The end.


fuoVSap

Review – Compare what the cover of the manga looks like and what the film looks like. This series had clear budget constraints. Again I watched without subtitles so maybe Prototype Cult-chan was mentioned, or was one of Misa’s close freinds (again) but really these films have been far better just soaking it in without wasting time on needless context. Again a low budget film where most of it went on the summoned creature at the end. A bit of a change from the first but again Misa, our cool badass protagonist, does nothing. In the 90s Japan really had a thing for these kind of ‘heroes’ who are in situations where they rely on wveryone around them to be the active participants. Just look at Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion or the main couple from Battle Royale. It lets the side characters develop more but these are not ensemble films so instead you just have a blank character being processed from one scene to the next. A silly film. Watch at double speed and enjoy the silliness.


 

There is a third film but I didn’t bother to watch it. Hope you enjoyed this irreverent review.

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Mini Film Reviews May 2015

Byzantium (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantium_%28film%29

An average vampire film, very much in the vein of Interview with a Vampire, starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan which many will feel is more concerned at character development at the cost of maintaining dramatic momentum. A very good central cast and scenic cinematography raise it above what it otherwise would be. It is enjoyable for a one time watch but there is nothing to bring you back.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berberian_Sound_Studio

A psychological horror film which experiments with the concept of sound. By being focused more on the audio experience than its visuals you do not get the tired ‘quiet, quiet LOUD!’ experience which has turned many away from the genre of late. Definitely worth experiencing at least once as it is original and suspenseful. Toby Jones as always is an excellent actor. Go watch it!

The Fog (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_%282005_film%29

A modern horror remake. John Carpenter’s original came out after his success with Halloween so it was never going to get the credit it deserved but go watch that rather than this even if a lot of its content may seem dated by now. You will, even all these years later, see Tom Welling and think ‘hey it’s that guy from Smallville’. An okay TV movie but really if they could edit it and show it earlier in the day for kids to watch it would get a better audience than it deserves.

The Holy Mountain (1973) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holy_Mountain_%281973_film%29

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s masterpiece of surreal fantasy depicting the occult alchemist journey to enlightenment based on Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross and Mount Analogue by René Daumal, who was a student of George Gurdjieff. . Visually arresting even if it isn’t your kind of film you will still have a story to tell people of the wonders you have seen. I know much of the imagery used and its context so it is not as ‘surreal’ as some may claim although not having this knowledge in no way will make the film less visually engaging. GO WATCH IT!

The Hangover (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hangover

Good standalone film. Would have been a classic in the style of many late 1970s/early 1980s comedies but unfortunately the modern trend in Hollywood of running concepts into the ground with sequels has diluted its impact. Watch this and don’t both with the sequels unless they are on television and you have nothing else to do.

Elfie Hopkins (2012) film DVD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elfie_Hopkins

Nancy Drew with swearing and cannibals in a quasi-Welsh town. Some characters have Welsh accents and some don’t. You could argue its set on the border with England but the setting seems too remote. There are some good performances, especially Gwyneth Keyworth, but it ultimately feels like a film that had good potential and not the budget to achieve it. The tone also feels uneven as if it is not sure if it should take itself seriously or not yet wants to emulate the uneasiness David Lynch is famed for using in his works like Blue Velvet or even Twin Peaks. Even worse it leaves a lot of questions unanswered about what happened to some plot points raised as if to suggest they were setting up to make this a series which unfortunately failed with this first effort. The ‘Little Munchkin’ short film, also starring Gwyneth Keyworth, included on the DVD offers a more compact story which I feel the film wanted to recreate but something went wrong along the way sadly.

License To Kill (1989) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licence_to_Kill

James Bond played by Timothy Dalton. If this film was made today it would fare far better but back in the 80s it was deemed too dark and realistic for a character who was associated with Roger Moore’s dry quips by this point. Not a terrible film, just not as enjoyable as others of the series. The exterior shots of the meditation centre are suitably grandiose and we get a performance from a young Benicio del Toro but otherwise it’s a bit too involved in trying to be serious without any scenes for the audience to take a breather from the events.

Lost In Space (1998) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_in_Space_%28film%29

Underacting and every character has at least one jerkass moment. If you want an example why films of the late 1990s are not liked look no further than this sterling example of the era’s faults. The lurid bleeding colour palette. The disrespect to the source material. The story which assumes there would be sequels (Dr Smith is still infected and eventually going to turn into ‘future’ Smith). The chemistry between the actors is appalling. You ultimately don’t care, or even want harm to befall, the characters. Of course at the end of the film Dr Smith is still infected and likely to turn into a ‘future Smith’ but ultimately as it is never resolved here we can just assume he eventually eat all the others. Just remember that if you ever have to watch this.

Neighbour No.13 / Rinjin 13-go (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Neighbor_No._Thirteen

Japanese Horror. A dark psychological film. Begins with good imagery of a man being tortured in a room in the middle of a grey landscape representing the inner turmoil of the central character but then becomes very mundane and overly serious (as seen in the trailer). At the 1 hour 30 minutes mark a character looks down a toilet at a giant piece of faeces. Also there is some black face at one point. It is a classic example of Japanese story telling where they have a great original idea and then give up on it and make something unremarkable. It is one of my biggest issues with the Japanese entertainment industry – they have no fear in producing original ideas but then seem to fear to truly follow through with distinctive narratives from that point onwards in many cases thus leaving you with stories that often feel drawn out. The Japanese are known for having long lingering shots and letting a story breathe, unlike any break neck paced American works, but sometimes it just feels like its padding the length of a story unnecessarily.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit:_Stallion_of_the_Cimarron

It would be better without Spirit’s inner monologue. I assume it was a studio decision but the animation could have easily carried the narrative. Well-made but being so centred on horses will limit its appeal. It is the sort of story I imagine being made into an animated film in the 1970s. If anything, on a technical side, it reminds me of the computer game industry where they might make games more as a way to experiment with new systems or technology that is available to them – in this case this film is a ‘tech demo’ of how to successfully animate horses with an eye to using the technique in later works.

Sword Of Sherwood Forest (1960) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_of_Sherwood_Forest

Fun, light hearted, take on the Robin Hood stories by Hammer films. It probably seems quite dated by today’s standards but was a fun romp. If you like a bit of hamm[er]y acting and cheesy story there is nothing wrong with this twist on the classic tale.

The Princess And The Frog (2009) Disney. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_and_the_Frog

Tiana is a complete blow hard. Being the straight man is one thing but she becomes a buzz killer at every point with her overly repeated moral message ‘you have to work hard to get what you want’ though in true Disney fashion she marries the prince in the end and thus gets what she wants via him immediately. Ironically the character of Charlotte, the spoilt friend who gets whatever she wants immediately and acts childishly, delivers a far more sincere message – though she has the opportunity to kiss the prince and achieve her dreams she puts them aside for Tiana as she values her friendship more than being selfish. Ray, the fire bug, is an awkwardly implemented character as he is often presented as the entertainment and gets killed in quite a sudden, extremely violent for a children’s film, manner. It is to empathise to the audience that things have gotten serious and there is no more time for fun but it seemed the sort of thing censors would have had serious concerns about in any other companies output. This was Disney’s last effort to test the viability of traditional 2D animation against the emergence of 3D and it is a tragedy that the quality seen here is going to be a forgotten bygone for many children growing up now. From a technical stand point even Studio Ghibli cannot match the quality of animation seen here. The songs are more jazz based which is something Disney hasn’t done often before but many of these songs are of great quality and it is a shame they haven’t caught on unlike other soundtracks. Actually there is a bit of hypocrisy I notice now seeing the trailer – Tiana crushes the frog Prince Naveen with a book and it is intentional slapstick comedy while Dr Facilier crushing Ray towards the end is presented as serious drama and a sign of his wickedness. This seems to be the point when Disney suddenly realised they needed to revise their classic storytelling tropes and so in Frozen we got sisterly love and rejection of the prince (albeit very poorly implemented as discussed in one of my prior posts).


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