Coming out of Eggshells

in 36th Moscow International Film Festival

by Carolin Weidner

The competition of 36th Moscow International Film Festival highlighted something you usually don’t see that often in films: People coming out of eggshells. In two movies, that very special action took place — Andreas Madjid Siege’s Beti and Amare, a somehow futuristic, but also historical piece of more-experimental-than-conventional filmmaking set in 1936 Ethiopia. And in South Korean director Shin Younshick’s The Avian Kind where a few women seek out a mysterious shaman to transform them into gigantic birds. Here it needs 15 years for that process until it’s time to break their shells; a strange metamorphosis in case of The Avian Kind, a shocking emersion in Beti and Amare. In addition to the Russian premiere of Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 that was part of the festival, also, you could ask if all that presented transformations are part of a larger process that the Moscow International Film Festival is going through. Or, in other words: Is there something behind this halfway serious observation of mine?

If you want to start chronologically with the opening night, you would easily find a reason against that thesis. Then, even if the festival opener — Gabe Polsky’s documentary Red Army, is not part of the competition, it represents some thoughts that are not progressive at all. Interesting enough to show a documentary to open a festival (which is not necessarily a bad thing) — if you have a closer look at Polsky’s portrait of some of the most popular Russian athletes — you can’t help but wonder if the last third of the movie really belongs to the intoxicating and rebellious first part. In Red Army, Polsky particularly captures a hockey player named Slava Fertisov, a charismatic superstar who used to beat hostile hockey teams (above all US-teams) without defeat. But in the last years of Soviet Union, when Fertisov’s wishes to transfer to one of the American teams, he has to learn that an aim like that is followed by rough national restrictions. The end of the story is surprising: Fertisov becomes friends with Vladimir Putin, returns to Russia and receives a new influential position in Russian sports politics. A co-production between US and Russia and produced by Werner Herzog, Red Army leaves too many questions.

Maybe you could point out that the opening night of a festival does not belong solely to the artistic approach of the whole event. And you would be even more right when you know about the very different courses of the two important men at Moscow International Film Festival: President Nikita Mikhalkov on the one hand, and Program Director Kirill Razlogov on the other. Last year’s festival report by Austrian critic Alexandra Zawia put that tension in a nutshell from the angle of films in the competition that had a major gay subject, a circumstance Mikhalkov could not, put politely, really understand. Even if films like that make it into the festival’s competition, you have to cope with the fact that they still stand in a big contrast to an antiquated mindset you can meet it in the more official settings of the festival. All the more is the importance of stressing the competition’s films which tend to challenge too conservative ideas. This year, one of the most provocative films Yes and Yes from Russian director Valeriya Gay Germanika (winner of the FIPRESCI prize and “Silver George” for the Best Director) was quite in the center of the competition. Yes and Yes shows not only an energetic, but difficult love between two young people in a somehow arty-milieu. It also manages to cover the story from a perspective that is right in the middle and seems more experienced than observed.

The borders of being and telling the story just blur. And in Yes and Yes that happens in a kind of radical manner, with many critical approaches toward present Russia. That both film and director are so popular in Russia is especially for visitors like I’ve been one a precious thing. To meet it directly in the festival’s competition seems to me of particular note. So here, maybe we have some eggs and even people who are trying to crawl out of them. The question is: Is the attention being directed toward these relevant movements, or are they totally ignored.

Edited by Rita di Santo