Dir.: Darya Zhuk; Cast: Alina Nasibullina, Yuriy Borisov, Swetlana Anikey, Ivan Mulin, Ilya Kapanets; Belarus/USA/Germany/Russia 2018, 93 min.
Darya Zhuk 1996-set feature debut shows how little Belarus has changed in the intervening years. Alina Nasibullina is the star turn as a disc jockey in Minsk who dreams of emigrating to Chicago, birth place of House Music. Although her performance takes on a farcical form, the comedy here is really gallows humour – vitriolic and bitter.
Velya lives with her museum curator mother (Swetlana Anikey) who like many in the older generation, yearns for the “good old” days on the Soviet block. The freedom they fought for has brought only insecurity. When Law graduate Velya gets sick and tired of the system and her childish and attention seeking boyfriend Alik (Borisov) she forges Visa documents from the US-Embassy in Minsk, somehow managing mess up her (non existent) employment details. The telephone number actually belongs to a family in a traditional factory town in the countryside, so she sets off to put things right. There she comes up against matriarch Alya who is deaf from blowing crystal in the local factory. Her oldest son Stepan (Mulin) takes a shine to Velya who plays along; having paid the phone bill, she is eagerly awaiting a call from the embassy with a glowing character reference. After Stepan rapes her, Velya goes back to Minsk with another lost soul, his younger brother Kostya.(Kapanets). Alik has moved in with her mother. But all is not lost.
Zhuk directs with great verve and energy, mastering the quickly changing narrative with considerable aplomb. Nasibullina is very much a central European version of Cindy Looper, a misfit in a country with a nostalgia for a brutal past. Velya is by no means a heroine, but a vulnerable victim of her rash spontaneity. DoP Carolina Costa avoids dour realism, crafting this flight for freedom with vibrant colours and inventive angles.
The only black mark is the LFF’s decision to place Crystal Swan in the festival’s “Laugh” strand: a woman’s rape is anything but funny. Perhaps the selection committee, led by a woman, should take note of IMdb, where the film is rightly classified as “Drama”. AS
LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10 -21 OCTOBER 2018 | Karlovy Vary 2018