Director: Taisia Igumentseva; Cast: Sergej Abroskin, Maksim Vitorgan, Irina Denisova, Anna Rud, Ela Sanko, Luris Lautsinsh, Alina Sergeeva; Russian Federation 2013, 105 min.
With her light-hearted and sumptuously-shot debut feature, BITE THE DUST, Taisia Igumentseva has succeeding in breaking away from the grim, dark view of classic Soviet cinema she feels her country is best known for abroad. Cleverly though, the themes of ‘old Russia’ still peep through in the vibrant characterisation of this quirky ‘apocalyptic’ comedy.
When the eight inhabitants of a remote village in Russia learn that the world will come to an end in 24 hours, they react first with panic, then with an outpouring of emotions, upsetting the given order of the relationships – at least for the time being. Senia, a not particularly successful thief, is married to the beautiful Nastya, who spends her days reading, housekeeping being not one of her strengths. But Senia forgives her, his profession allows him to bribe his wife to stay with him, because he knows that his neighbour Mikkail (married to Olga with two sons), more than admirers Nastya. The zany inventor Vanya finds countless ways of nearly electrocuting himself, whilst the cinephile Nina mourns for her dead husband by finding refuge in showing the villagers arthouse films. The Lenin enthusiast Zina and the drunken Vassilych, who roams the village with his cow Candy, make up the villagers, whose reaction to the apocalypse is very much in keeping alive the Russian soul; never mind the political system.
In preparation for the meltdown everybody cooks, a table is laid out, and all the alcohol reserves of the village are put on the table. Then Nastya and Mikkail declare their love for each other in a temporary madness brought on by the threat of death. Senia tries to shack up with Olga and the kids, but he only receives a couple of towels, since it has started to rain incessantly. Nina ends her mourning, whilst the precious films are destroyed in the floods. (A metaphor that only love beats the cinema). Whilst rain and snow pour down (“it takes a long time to kill us”), and everyone cuddles together in one room.
BITE THE DUST is a gentle comedy, full of warmth for all protagonists, who are less than perfect, but are shown to be deeply human despite their faults. The camera work is outstanding: the desolation is shown in sweeping shots, the close-ups dwarf the characters even more in comparison with the force of nature. Even though the space of the action is very limited and confined to a rural riverside village, there is always something new to enjoy if it’s only the devastation caused by rain and snow in endless variations. Much imagination has gone into the sets with a good eye for the smallest details echoing Russian rural life. The acting is convincing, even Vassilych’s cow and Zina’s dog are well integrated and endearing. Far away from the modern world, the villagers represent the victory of the human spirit over the elements, emotions triumph over material considerations, their simple solidarity is more powerful than any –isms of yesterday and today. AS
BITE THE DUST IS SCREENING DURING THE 7TH RUSSIAN FESTIVAL ON MONDAY 11 NOVEMBER 18.00 AT EMPIRE LEICESTER SQUARE.