Sunday, January 07, 2007

4: Grade B


4 (2004)

Directed by Ilya Khrjanovsky (Russian, Subtitled)

Two men and a woman converge in a Moscow bar at 3 am and describe their lives. A hooker claims to be in advertising; a meat wholesaler claims to be a caterer to the Russian president; a piano tuner claims to be a genetic engineer. All the stories are detailed and believable, and it is not clear who is fooled, but afterward, when we see their bleak and desolate lives (mostly the girl’s), we understand why they have these fantasies. The scene at the bar is simple, just talking heads, but a masterpiece of filmmaking and acting. After that, the movie is all about the photography, landscapes, and sounds, as the girl returns to her village for a funeral. She walks across devastated, muddy terrain, the grounds of a nuclear reactor, a municipal solid waste site, and possibly a steel mill. The harsh scenery, rain, mud, and wild dogs are reminiscent of Belá Tarr’s Damnation. The dog, bird, and unidentifiable industrial sounds are fantastic. There is also a “meat” theme throughout, from the meat wholesaler’s warehouse, to people gnawing on bones at meals, to the nude shots of the girl and her friends, especially when contrasted to the bodies of the aged old crones in her rural village. The idea seems to be that people all reduce to meat and nothing more; life is about eating, drinking, sex, and death. It is a dark, existential statement. There are a few banal scenes shown twice with very slight variations. I didn’t get the point of those. Some of the edits are so bad (jerks in the motion, etc.) that I wondered if they were supposed to be artistic in some way. But overall, this film was haunting, especially the first hour, and you get the sense that it really is a look at Russia today.

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