Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Can’t Stop the Gop(nik)

Over the past two weeks I have probably gone to the cinema far more than I should. A new job schedule has (finally) allowed me to return home without feeling brain-dead and able to do something semi-intellectual. Conveniently, a film festival was in town. In fact, there’s a British film festival that just started as well, but I unfortunately missed a screening of Chris Morris’ Four Lions last night (it’s showing again on Sunday, so here’s hoping I can nab a seat).

The theme of the 2-in-1 film festival was fairly general – art movies here, comedies there, foreign flicks thrown in for good measure – and the three films I managed to catch were vastly different [Special thanks to Kseniya and Aleksey, by the way, for abusing their influence with the organizers and giving me free tickets].

Другое Небо/Another Sky (Dmitry Mamuliya, 2010)

Probably best to start with the crap and end on a high note. Другое Небо (Droo-goy-ye Nye-boh) is an enormously depressing piece about chain-smoking estranged husband & father Ali from Central Asia who comes to Moscow in search of his wife. His nine-year-old son tags along. Nothing good happens to any of them, put bluntly.

To those not aware of the problems “guest workers” (or “gastarbeiteri” as the Russians stole it from the Germans) face in Moscow, Another Sky highlights their plight and shows off the supposed monotony of their existence in the capital. Truth be told, it was just plain boring – mostly because shots lingered on the side of the father’s head walking down streets and corridors, and he barely utters a word throughout. The first five times are fine, we get the message: it’s shitty and that’s the life some of them have. Is it necessary that the whole film be an exposition-less snooze-a-thon? Can’t there at least be a semblance of a story?

The director held a Q&A afterwards. He was wearing a scarf indoors. Groan. Though if I understood what was said correctly afterwards, various guest-workers and typical locations were used in the film (rather than being shot in, say, Mosfilm Studios). Too bad the production didn’t bother to delve into the topic further, as I mentioned in previous posts that Slavic (or “White”) Russians don’t exactly have good attitudes towards the Southern Caucasians or their Asian neighbours.

Неглубокая могила/Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)

Before Trainspotting, Danny Boyle shot Shallow Grave. I got slight waves of nostalgia, as it was filmed in Edinburgh, plus there was a cèilidh scene (Scottish line dancing, essentially, except fun).

One of the three protagonists, Kerry Fox (who plays a doctor), was in town to present the movie. Ewan McGregor (an obnoxious journo who never shuts up) and Christopher Eccleston (a straight-laced accountant who “always gets the job done”) have since gone on to bigger things.

It’s a well-paced flick, and Eccleston does a wonderful job of making the rest of the cast feel paranoid as he becomes more and more unstable after new flatmate Keith Allen’s unexpected death by overdose in their apartment. Well worth watching.

Гоп-стоп/Hold Up (Pavel Bardin, 2010)

Before Гоп-стоп (Gop-Stop), Pavel Bardin shot the film “Russia 88” (2009), which was a fake documentary about Russian neo-Nazi skinheads. I’ve not seen it myself, but it was both fairly well-received and banned from being screened in Russia.

Hold Up isn’t exactly a good translation of the title. The word “gopnik” in the blog title is Russia’s word for someone of the lower class i.e. ned, spide, steek, towny or scally depending on where you’re from in the UK. Essentially the stereotypical image of individuals dressed in garish tracksuits who hang around in playgrounds drinking Buckfast or White Lightning.

Ironically, while Gop-Stop features aforesaid scummy gopniks as the lead characters, the tone is the polar opposite to Bardin’s previous flick. Even though the film is loaded with obscure cultural references, most of which I could barely understand, I still found it hilarious. Needless to say, the locals who were in attendance howled with laughter.

Gop-Stop is the tale of down-and-out gopnik Vasya, played by Pyotr Fyodorov (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Colin Farrell) and his close friend who embark on an absurd Robin Hood-esque scheme against the oppressive local mayor, who has spent most of his term embezzling the money of the taxpayers. I wonder where they got that idea from?

Sometimes the Russian definition of comedy tends to be a guy on stage holding a clipboard, who announces “Two Russians go to Las Vegas” and then reads out a list of the hijinx they get up to. Gop-Stop completely quashes that image, proving that writers here are equally capable of dumb-but-fun screenplays that need not really on one nationality as its audience to be successful. Russian slapstick is not high art by any means, but it sure as hell was infinitely more entertaining than Another Sky.

Bizarrely, on the night, the film was being screened twice. After we came out of the hall, it turned out the second showing was for cast, crew and guests only. It was slightly bizarre seeing the same people that I had just watched for the past hour and a half standing in front of me. Pyotr Fyodorov remained in character and was dressed up in an ugly tracksuit for the premiere.

Социа́льная Сеть/The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

This wasn’t part of the festival, though it has just been released in Russia. It might be a bit of a stretch to define it as “the film of the decade” that some reviewers have already said, but the combination of Fincher’s direction, Aaron Sorkin’s writing, and the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made for a fantastic experience.

It should be noted that, while it’s been called “the Facebook movie”, it has very little to do with the website itself. Instead, the story (based on the mouthful of a book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal”) focuses on the actions of the main players – how the site was spawned from Mark Zuckerberg being dumped and drunkenly taking out his frustrations through his skills as a programmer – and the sacrifices they have made along the way in pursuit of fortune.

Regrettably I had the misfortune of only getting to see the Russian dub, but I still walked out of the cinema satisfied. Reznor’s style shines throughout, especially when the second major scene hits.

And who would have thought Justin Timberlake would nearly steal the show with his sleazy, narcissistic portrayal of Sean Parker, one of the founders of peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster?

The overall moral of the story is, while the facts might likely have been skewed and overdramatized on the way to the projector, we are all human and are equally fragile. It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but in spite of the success of Zuckerberg et al., they all get their comeuppance one way or another, be it being sued for 500 million dollars, or simply being dumped by your girlfriend for being a jerk.

= = = = = = =

Last night on the way back from work one man was walking around in the chilly autumn air topless very slowly, albeit with his coat hanging down around his elbows. Later, on the way to the local grocery store, there was a man sliding around on his arse for no apparent reason. He didn’t look crippled at all; something had just possessed him to propel himself across the asphalt with his hands. Seat of trousers be damned.

That’s it for now.

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