Posts Tagged ‘Russian’

Masha (2020)

Dir.: Anastasiya Palchikova; Cast: Polina Gukhman, Anna Chipovskaya; Maksim Sukhanov, Alexander Mizev, Iris Lebedeva; Russia 2020, 86 min.

This first feature from Russian writer/director Anastasiya Palchikova is a thinly veiled critique of the nation post Stalinism, wrapped up as a crime/revenge story. The director takes the forces to task in creating a society riddled with violence where Putin and his oligarchy cronies rule with impunity given the lack of a legitimate opposition.

We meet Masha (Gukhman) just before her thirteenth birthday; she lives in a small Russian town and is the darling of her uncle (Sukhanov), who is a crime lord, involving his sons and other relatives in all his schemes from robbery to murder. Masha, a gifted singer, has the family in thrall – and when school friend Sergey ignores her approaches, she asks Uncle’s sons to beat him up until he relents and offers her the attention she craves. But Sergey has also got mixed up in the family business and will later pay with his life for getting out of his depth.

Uncle is very critical of Masha’s mother Nadya (Lebedeva), who has married outside the clan, and has left her husband while remaining a close friend. Nadya wants to take Masha to a relative in far away Samara, but Uncle does not want to give up control, and asks his son Andrei (Mizev) to burn Nadya’s flat down, killing Nadya’s husband in the process. And he’s not the only one sleeping there.

The end is set in Moscow where a grown-up Masha (Chipovskaya) gets ready for a performance with Uncle, Andrei and other family members are in attendance, getting rich on the spoils of the now legitimate music business. But Masha has not forgotten.

Polina Gukhman carries the feature as Masha the 13 year old whose uncle and sons fulfil her every wish, the big family cushioning her from the big wide world. Violence is the norm for her – but the victims are always the ones fighting Uncle and his clan. Only once is the order disturbed, when one of Uncle’s relatives is killed by a rival gang, having raped an under aged girl. Told from the POV of Masha, for whom Uncle is a sort of God granting her every wish, this is a study of a regressive dog eat dog world, where violence holds sway. In Masha’s infantile understanding of the situation, brutality is just part of getting what you want – just ask Uncle whose soft spot for her (rather like the Kray twins for their mother) contrasts with his harsh treatment of all others, including his wider family. DoP Gleb Filatov’s harsh realism is sometimes hard to bear, but never gratuitous in showing how casually normal this hostile environment is for an adolescent like Masha. But Uncle’s little Princess would grow up one day. AS

MASHA is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films as part of an extended Subscription free trial on BFI player using the voucher code RFF21.


Mirror | Tarkovsky Retrospective ICA London

MIRROR is a stream-of-consciousness, totally without any narrative. The narrator, on his deathbed, looks back on his life. The only structure is the time-setting: pre-war, war and post-war. Mirror is the best example of the director’s  “sculpting in time” approach to filmmaking: images and sound (in this case classical music) melt into a memory lane in which the time frames are interchangeable. Sometimes the film is labelled as metaphysical and it is hardly surprising that the USSR censors even tried to ban any export of the film, helping to make it into a legend.


The Banishment | Izgnanie (2007) | bluray release

Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev | Cast: Marie Bonnevie, Konstantin Lavronenko, Alexander Baluev | Russia | Drama | 118′ 

After critical acclaim with THE RETURN, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s second feature kicks off with a gritty opening sequence that gives the early impression of an edgy and sinuous thriller with a potential for brutal violence. Not so. What we actually get is an unsettling social drama based loosely on a story by William Saroyan entitled The Laughing Matter.

Set in an indiscriminate time and place (could be the seventies, certainly Northerly, could be somewhere in Russia, it is actually Moldova) it has a ‘retro’ feel although we never get the answers to these questions. But this enigmatic quality and an ominous soundtrack adds to the suspence of this unusual film. The story centres on Vera, a timid and insecure mother (played by the Norwegian born actress Marie Bonnevie) and her relationship with Alexander and his brother Mark. It follows on from the tragic events of one summer when they take their two children to the country dacha for a family holiday, and certainly to lay low, although we never find out why. The general mood is one of tension and impending doom that soon descends into bewilderment as the sprawling story unfolds. Overlong and at times confusing, this is certainly not the masterpiece it led us to believe it would in the opening sequence, it is nevertheless a film that begs to be noticed for its cinematic impact and well-crafted performances. Meredith Taylor ©


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