Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2018 4:55 pm 
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A dose of family, in bright boxy color

Balagov's colorful intensity forces itself upon us from the start. The opening scene is of a sister and brother, whose flirtation and dirty talk may define the title for us: this is a world of family and tribal intimacy.

The title states a theme worked out narratively and visually in Balagov's intense, slow-moving film about a Jewish family in Russia She is a tomboy who works in their father's garage and prefers overalls. He is about to be married to his love, Lea. She has a secret lover, from an obscure tribe whom her parents might not approve of and who might not approve of her. They meet clandestinely, often in a car. Then her brother and Lea are kidnapped and held for ransom. The Jewish community, led by the rabbi, are unable to raise all the ransom money. They decide to sell the garage and its contents and this will mean they will have to move. The are constantly moving and they had begun to fit in, but that's over. Only when the brother comes back the issue becomes: will he go with the family? Will Lea? Will his sister?

All of this matters so intensely that it pushes all else away, each one thing occupying the small crowded box of the screen at a time and making it seem as if there is nothing else. Thus Balagov captures the beauty and oppression of a rich ethnic family life in a small, encroached-upon tribal community struggling to exist against the world.

Many including audience members at the Cannes Un Certain Regard original screening of this film have objected to the use of a real "snuff film," showing Russians being threatened, tortured, and killed, which goes on for several minutes. This is just the most oppressive and drawn-out passage of a film that tends, for some of us, to feel oppressive and drawn-out for much of its nonetheless distinctive and in its own way beautiful run-time.

Reviewed by Jessica Kiang as part of Un Certain Regard at Cannes in Variety:"An ethically indefensible choice mars Russian first-timer Kantemir Balagov’s otherwise impressively tough-minded debut," she began, pointing to the use of what might be considered a real 'snuff film' in its contents. "Even without its most controversial segment," Kiang said, this is "a demanding, difficult watch, presents an unavoidable [ethical dilemma]" whether to consider this inclusion remotely acceptable, of at midpoint a lengthy excerpt from a "scratchy and degraded VHS tape" of the kind we know from ISIS, of "anti-Semitic Islamist violence and murder." Tara Brady of The Irish Times explains it is "actual footage from the 1999 Dagestan massacre - in which Chechens torture Russian soldiers.". "the sequence goes on for a long time," Kiang writes, and the press notes indicate its not just realistic but real. . "

"Closeness is a tough-minded, rigorously composed, quite brilliantly acted story of the challenges of everyday religious prejudice and ethnic divides in the bleak heart of Russia’s North Caucasus, and in many ways Balagov’s uncompromising but stylized social realism rewards as much as it punishes," Brady writes. "But in including this real video — essentially a snuff movie — within a fiction narrative and not announcing it as such, a line is crossed. . ." But Tara Brady concluded with: "A divisive and discombobulating new talent has arrived on the Croisette."

Closeness/Tesuta 118 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes May 2017. Reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, FSLC and MoMA, Mar. 2018.

Saturday, March 31, 4:30pm [MoMA]
Sunday, April 1, 4:30pm [FSLC]

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