Launching Offline Festival Season

in 43rd Moscow International Film Festival

by Nina Romodanovskaya

The 43rd Moscow International Film Festival was held in the Russian capital from the 22nd to the 29th of April 2021. Although the coronaviru situation in Moscow this April is significantly better than it was last fall, the 43rd MIFF has not neglected imposing antiviral restrictions. Every other seat was empty, and spectators were obligated to wear masks. Fourteen films from China, Croatia, Cuba, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Norway, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Romania, and Venezuela participated in the festival’s main competition.

A drama by Alexey Fedorchenko The Last Darling Bulgaria (Poslednyaya Milaya Bolgariya, 2021) was the only Russian film in the main competitionl. Alexey Fedorchenko lives and works in Yekaterinburg, an old Siberian city located in the (very) heart of Russia, just east of the Ural Mountains. Fedorchenko’s works have often participated and won awards at prestigious festivals in Venice, Rome, Cottbus, and others. Unfortunately, due to financial problems, The Last Darling Bulgaria remained unfinished for a long time, and the premiere was postponed for several years.

The plot of the film is based on Mikhail Zoshchenko’s autobiographical story “Before Sunrise”. Shortly after the publication of this work, Zoshchenko was subjected to repression, was expelled from the Writers’ Union, and blacklisted as an author. He sought to battle his depression, so he looked for the root cause.

Fedorchenko believes that “Before Sunrise” studies the anatomy of melancholy and therefore defines the genre of the film as a psychoanalytic detective story. However, The Last Darling Bulgaria is not a precise screen adaptation of the book. The movie itself covers a much longer period of time. Also, a new character, a Michurin fruit grower, made an appearance in the film, and in addition to his main job, he reads diaries: the chapters of a humorous story written by the popular writer Semyon Kurochkin (Zoshchenko’s prototype), who disappeared without a trace and is even considered dead in order to understand what was going on in his head. In the book, the author analyzes himself, while in the film, that role is relegated to another. Therefore, we have two main characters and two realities.

The main action takes place in Almaty in 1942-1943, which, during WWII, became the center of film production in the USSR. All the main forces of Soviet cinema were evacuated and worked at the Central United Film Studio. Sergei Eisenstein (who directed a movie about the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible), Mikhail Romm, the Vasilyev brothers, and Zoshchenko himself wrote titles for films.

Despite the fact that events in the film take place more than 70 years ago, an attentive viewer will notice a lot of parallels with the present; today’s realities are quite visible, despite the differing scenery and unnamed names.

An interesting visual solution to the picture is a complex multi-screen montage, when the action takes place simultaneously on several screens. These are not different scenarios for the development of events, but, as it were, a different perspective on the same scene.

Alexey Fedorchenko received the Silver George, an award given to the best director.

In addition to contests for documentaries and short films, a number of various programs were held at the Moscow International Film Festival. Traditionally, programs at the festival such as Masters, 8 ½ Films, Films That Were Not Here, Free Thought, offered remarkable retrospectives of the late Kim Ki Duk and Michael Apted, as well as Yves Montana and Simone Signoret and classic Italian cinema, as well as new works by emerging directors from various countries, films from past major world festivals and foreign films with an unexpected Russian twist to them. The realities of the last year were also reflected in the programs, names such as  “Lockdown” and the “Euphoria of Isolation” appeared.

Several programs were devoted to women’s cinema – Women Film Directors of our Time, Cinematography of China, A Women’s Gaze, and Women’s Cinema of Israel.

The 8 ½ Films program included the Russian premiere of a new film by Alexander Mindadze, a renowned Russian director—Parquet (Parket, 2020). It was the first showing of the film on the big screen.

Parquet tells the story of three characters at the 25th anniversary of a dance club. They have not seen each other for a quarter of a century and are going to repeat the three-piece tango that shot them to fame many years ago. The film itself is a whole whirlpool of feelings that are captured on screen: there is love, hatred, passion, and despair. The characters often drown in these emotions, like in a crazy dance. The three main characters of the story, whom fate brings together again after a long time, had been connected not only by dance, but also by romantic relationships. Polish actors Andrzej Chyra and Agata Kulesza and Israeli actress Yevgeniya Dodina play Herman, nicknamed Kakadu, Elizabeth, his ex-lover, and Valencia, his ex-wife, respectively. Scene by scene they plunge deeper into the forgotten world of their youth and tango, illusion and passion, as reality slips away from them, yet eventually catches up near the end of the film. As these events unfold, each of the characters deals with the aftermath of time passing in their own way.

Dance plays a very important role in the film. The actors worked for almost six months under choreographer Sergei Statsenko, who has been practicing tango for over 15 years. “Dance is only a vector, a kind of route for the characters, and all the turns and every movement of the hand and foot lead to the final stop, which was shown in the film’s finale,” said the director.

Parquet is the third joint project between director Alexander Mindadze and the Romanian cameraman, the “father” of Romanian New Wave cinema, Oleg Mutu. Mindadze says that Mutu is incredibly thorough: “He penetrates into the depths of the script. He reads the scenes with his sixth sense.” Oleg Mutu’s filming technique is unique — in Parquet, the viewer not only sees the actors in motion, but as if he himself is immersed in a virtuoso’s dance. Filming took place mainly in Romania.

Mindadze is not a very prolific filmmaker, therefore his works are always the highlight of film festivals. The premiere of his latest film Dear Hans, Lovely Pjotr (Milyy Khans, Dorogoy Pyotr) took place at the Moscow International Film Festival in 2015.

In addition to the official prizes – gold and silver St. George’s, a number of unofficial prizes are traditionally awarded at the festival. Among them, the most beloved by filmmakers — the Audience Award — the only award of the festival determined by the audience, not by a professional panel of judges.

On April 29th, at the 43rd Moscow International Film Festival, according to the results of the audience vote, the winner of the Audience Choice Award was determined — the Greek film Man Of God (O Anthropos tou Theou, 2021). Portal ProfiCinema, a long-term partner of the Audience Choice Award of the Main Competition of the Moscow International Film Festival, presented the film with a special award—The Key to Viewers’ Hearts.

Man Of God presents the real life story of Metropolitan Saint Nektarios of Aegina. The film tells about the trials and tribulations that befell him. Faith and devotional service to God saved the saint throughout his life, even when, due to slander from ill-wishers, he had to go into forced exile. The film’s director and screenwriter is a Serbian-American actress, Yelena Popovic, who assembled a multinational cast on set. The role of the metropolitan was played by the Greek actor Aris Servetalis, and a fairly large role in the film went to the Russian actor Alexander Petrov. Mickey Rourke represented his American colleagues.

I agree with the festival program director Kirill Razlogov’s assessment: “This year’s program inevitably reflects the uncertainties in the cinematic process itself. From time to time, filmmakers from different countries went to extremes. The extreme situation of pandemic and isolation caused extreme aesthetic and anti-aesthetic choices, unexpected semantic collisions, exacerbated by the long-term isolation of the creators. The central films of the competition, which have always been our priority, directly touch upon critical situations in cinematic life itself.” The competition was generally strong this year. The program went more or less smoothly.

Nina Romodanovskaya
Edited by Savina Petkova