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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Vasily Sigarev

The award of main prize in the Wiesbaden GoEast festival to Vasily Sigarev's second film Жить (Living) comes after Rotterdam's overlooking this rather new and uncomfortable voice in Russian cinema. If some like Sergei Loznitsa have moved from documentary to feature films, Sigarev's move has been from theatre. This is not unique in these times - both Kirill Serebrennikov and Ivan Vyrypaev - have moved from theatre to cinema (although not permanently). Time will tell whether Sigarev will make the move more permanently. Undoubtedly in theatre he established an international reputation: in the UK alone his play Plastiline was produced at the Royal Court and he also won an Evening Standard Thetrae award. An article way back in 2003 in the Guardian already established his reputation as a powerful voice in theatre .

His move into film was not greeted by everyone. In fact a storm of outrage surrounded the award of best film at the Sochi Film Festival for his film Волчок (Wolfy). He was accused of sensationalism and returning Russian cinema to the bad old days of chernuka. It seems as though this director from the Urals ignored this criticism and according to Novaya Gazeta's film critic Larisa Maliukova has only increased the doses of radical defiance of convention present in his first film Wolfy itself offers a harsh blow to the viewer uncompromising in its bleak portrayal of the absolute indifference of a mother for her child. Whether as Lipovetsky and Beumers argue that this film reproduces patriarchal forms of thought through its sense of horror of female freedom (and freedom as such) or that the film should be read in some other way (as a discourse on the loss and acquisition of innocence as Zara Abdullaeva does) it remains one of the most striking films of the last few years.

Sigarev's new film has also divided critics fiercely. While the president of the Wiesbaden jury Cristi Puiu (the director of 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu')  stated that the film was not just a film but a personal experience, another member of the jury was said to have declared that he or she was ready to give the award to any film of the festival other than to Sigarev's film. This divided opinion between fierce support and fierce antagonism but no indifference is indicative of reactions to Sigarev's work. Hopefully, though, Sigarev will be one of the voices that will become more known to a wider cinema going audience outside of Russia in coming years so that viewers can see for themselves. The accusations of being a pale imitation of Von Trier's work  as well as a narrowly 'sociological' reading of the films may not die away as yet but it seems that Sigarev has proved other critics wrong in their misreading of his powerful works.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Sergei Loznitsa - a new voice in world cinema.

Articles in much of the mainstream press tend to ignore the name of Sergei Loznitsa when listing the contenders for Cannes' 'Palme d'Or'. A genuine shame because after all his second feature film 'In the Fog' (В Тумане) is one of those entering the main competition and Loznitsa will be at Cannes in the line-up for the second time. His first feature film -My Joy (Счастье Мое)- was one of those films that really catch critics unawares. At one point during the festival some believed that the film was heading for the main prize. Yet although a road movie of sorts no one seemed to be able to place it. Conservative Russian critics were damned if this film was going to win portraying, in their eyes, a black image of the country. Moreover, it was shown in competition with Mikhalkov's truly awful sequel to Burnt by the Sun and a prize for Loznitsa would apparently signify a slap in the face for Mikhalkov. Loznitsa's film was no simple tale of contemporary reality that both its detractors and its supporters stated it to be even though it, as Loznitsa stated, could not have been located anywhere else but in the border region between Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia.

For years Loznitsa had been working as a documentary director but the documentaries that Loznitsa made were like few others and he invented a new language of documentary filming. A new documentary language that was, however, like a return to Lumiere. The fact is that Loznitsa did away completely with voice-over and there is very little dialogue at all in his documentaries.

The documentary for which he is perhaps most well-known is his film 'The Siege' (Влокада) about the Second World War siege of Leningrad. He used footage found in film archives in St Petersburg to make one of the most fascinating documentaries of recent years. The lack of voiceover or even music was a deliberate decision on the part of Loznitsa to avoid the disruption of the process of vision and yet he does create a realm of siege sounds that, as Polina Barskova in a perceptive review of the film has stated, is rather similar to German's 'Khrustalev, mashinu'. Just as In German's film "in Loznitsa’s film, sounds are also fragmented, superimposed over each other, disorganized"

Like 'The Siege', Loznitsa's film 'Revue' (Представление) is also made entirely from found footage and is without a voiceover. Synchronized sound is added. Other documentaries of Loznitsa are also fully without dialogue and create cinematic miracles from truly pedestrian moments of life. One of my favourites is 'The Train Stop' (Полустанок) which observes sleeping travellers at a small train station while they sleep and snore. Yet there is something immensely classical about this film- the observation of banality reaches artistic heights hard to account for. In all Loznitsa made 11 documentary films and it is hard to fault any of them. Their mainly rural setting gives them a certain ability to reflect on time and change as well as mobility and immobility in a different way. The journey from documentary to feature film in Loznitsa is also original and one could almost compare it to the journey that Alain Resnais made - 'My Joy' being the strange parallel to the 'Last Year in Marienbad' with their parallel disorientation of time.

Another plausible source for Loznitsa has been provided by Russian filmcritic Zara Abdullaeva- she posits parallels with Medvedkin's Счастье ('Happiness' but using the same word in Russian as the title of Loznitsa's film). The fairy tale like construction of the film but within a far more grotesque context of the crisis of all humanism seems to posit a new step in which Russian cinema has taken. Loznitsa takes Russian cinema and its fables bravely into the territory of Platonov and his 'Foundation Pit'. His is a vision sorely needed in Russian cinema (or Russian-Ukrainian cinema) at the moment- he represents a voice that only Pyotr Lutsik seemed able to represent before his untimely death in the late 1990s. Surely it really is time for the Cannes media circus to notice this genuinely new emergent master of world cinema.