A Subtle Journey
in 25th Moscow International Film Festival
by Ashok Rane
Koktebel, a debut film of the young Russian filmmakers duo Boris Hlebnikov and Aleksey Popogrebsky, is about a father and a son who set off on a long journey to the sea side. Their destination is Koktebel, a seaside town. The son is quite curious about the place and very much eager to reach there as early as possible. But things don’t happen as he expects. The journey takes the long way. They come across many hurdles sometimes keeping them in a stuck-up situation. Not by their own choices but they are compelled to. It somewhat irritates the boy but the father is calm and quite, as if he were not in a hurry at all. And it’s true to some extent. The time factor in their journey never bothers him, but for the son it’s the other way round. Despite that he understands very well thesituation of being stuck in one place for days together, except on the last occasion, where it seems the father is in a kind of ‘settled’ situation. It’s a lonely home of a lonely lady doctor in a remote place in the countryside. The lady treats the injured man who was shot at the earlier stopover by a schizophrenic old man. She not only cures the wound but also fills his lonely life with care and concern. The boy becomes restless as their stay exceeds and what disturbs him more is his father’s involvement in the lady. For the first time he bursts out abusing his father which father finds shocking. Finally he sets out quietly on his own to Koktebel… Now he has to take all his decisions himself. He has to find his means of transport. And he finds himself in a truck with a talkative driver. He does not entertain him much. He asks for information about the place he is leading to but does not allow him to interfere. He keeps him at a distance to maintain his solitude. He dislikes depending on anybody, anymore… At one point he asks the driver to stop and gets down. He ignores the driver’s suggestion to be with him for some distance from where they will be close to the sea. He climbs up a small hill top and tries to fly a kite as he has heard of stories about this place where air-gliders fly in the ever-blowing wind. It dosen’t work. He gives up and walks to the seaside. He is on the beach… quiet and calm. And after a while his father joins him. Both, without disturbing each other look at the sea… If I have to put the whole thing in one sentence I would say it’s a very moving film about a father and a son taking separate paths to the same destination.
But, does Koktebel exist ? Or is it just a myth ? The boy is told by the father that Koktebel is on the seaside and finally they are there. Koktebel or no Koktebel, it does matter now. What matters is their journey. Their knowing each other. And of course their understanding of one another which leads to their re-union.
The debut filmmakers have succeeded in handling a typical road-movie genre quite comfortably. They are at their best with remarkable ease. There are hardly any dramatic scenes. The drama evolves through the everydayness of life which enhances the lyrical quality of the film and that makes the film very unique and special. The uniqueness of it lies in subtlety which is rather the strength of the film. This shows the directors command over the language of cinema. The ease in temperaments and mannerisms of the characters is brought out brilliantly by the two actors. The chemistry between the two is marvelous. A couple of other characters who appear occasionally are also well crafted and very alive. On the surface level Koktebel is a very simple film but underneath it carries the whole complexities of life, as relationships, inner voices, individualities, etc. It’s a very moving, gentle and poetic film. A very rare fine cinematic expression! One aspect that has not been taken care of by the directors is the elongation of the film. At some point the film lingers too much, which disturbs its harmony. Just as the main character is stuck up at the beautiful lady doctor’s the directors are stuck up with the beautiful images they have created. So much in love of the images that they find it difficult to move further. And that makes the film loose its flow. This is what happens very often with the ‘arty’ kind of filmmakers. Since it is their first film they have to learn few lessons with it and the only thing they should learn is not to be in so much love with images they create. And they would surely achieve it as they have been advised so by the renowned scriptwriter, director Agnieszka Holland a member of the jury while handing them their award for Special Jury Price. In her very loving words she said, the young filmmakers are very talented and have extreme understanding of life and the medium of cinema, but they should be harsh in using scissors too…
© FIPRESCI 2003