Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 1:37 pm 
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Three characters in search of significance

The young Russian director Vladimir Kott has directed three excellent actors in this sophomore effort about three former school buddies dealing with midlife meltdowns. But despite the excellence of the leads and the movie's general competence Kott doesn't achieve the transcendence he seems to be striving for. If he's fumbling toward something like Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog as his succession of characters facing grim life challenges suggests, Kott never quite marshals the depth of writing or the grandeur of overall conception to carry that off, and Gromozeka arouses hopes that it eventually dashes.

In their teens this trio of men whose intertwined narratives form Gromozeka were in a band with that same name. The film is book-ended with a reunion when the three sing with drunken enthusiasm into a video camera and take a sauna together. When they ask each other, post sauna, how they are, they all blissfully, or numbly, say "fine." But that is anything but the case, as the rest of the film shows us. Thirty years after their spirited band days they are, to begin with, in different worlds. More upscale, Eduard (Nicolay Dobrynin) is a surgeon who lacks the courage to tell his grim wife (Darya Semenova), an optician (a job used symbolically) that he’s in love with a younger woman at the hospital. It’s eating away at him; or is he just sick?

At the next level down, which is more humble in Russia, a cop or a cabbie? Well, longtime policeman Vasya (Boris Kamorzin) is about to be demoted because he hasn’t got the stuff to go out on active assignments. And his wife Larisa (Yevgeniya Dobrovolskaya) is having an affair, though he doesn’t know with whom. His son is a thug, though he doesn't really know that either. This is where two of the three plots cross over, because band alumnus number three, taxi driver Mozerov (Leonid Gromov) is so angry when he finds out his daughter (Polina Filonenko) is not a student as she claims but a porn star, he pays the mafia to disfigure her, and the cop’s son is the one sent out. The son refuses to do the job – he recognizes the daughter (lots of people do! she's in the latest Russian porn movies), and some amusing contretemps follow. When Mozerov takes things into his own hands he's almost as grimly buffoonish as one of Nabokov's cardboard villains. And Vasya, who is always posing with a pistol but unable to use one, has a truly Nabokovian moment of clumsy accidental machismo when he tries to punish his wife's lover.

Yes, this is bleak-ish Kieslowski-style essay on life and the fate we choose for ourselves does have sparks of genuine dark humor, as well as touches of supernatural symbolism. But Kott, whose debut The Fly (ND/NF 2009) about a man in the remote provinces who discovers he has an obstreperous 26-year-old daughter, was full of promise, shows here that despite good direction, performances, and cinematography, he’s not, and probably never will be, Kieślowski. Gromozeka lacks Dekalog's profound moral vision, Kieślowski's ability to look deep into the human psyche through intensely specific moments.

There is some energy and suspense in the first half of the movie as we watch to see if the surgeon and cop will man up and the cabbie will find something better to do than victimize his daughter, but the three narrative lines, however smoothly edited together, just dig the men deeper in dirt in the second half, and the musical bookend is merely an escape from the lack of resolution. As for the women, they are depicted as an unpleasant lot -- whores, cuckolds, or just mean and frigid. No wonder the only child in sight is a hoodlum. But should he really be the only fellow with cojones and a code

Shown in competition at the Rotterdam Film Festival. In Russian. 103min. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directions/New Films, presented March 23-April 4, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York.

ND/NF screenings:
2011-04-01 | 6:00 PM | MoMA
2011-04-02 | 3:45 PM | FSLC

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