Revelation and Malediction

in 26th Moscow International Film Festival

by Denis Coté

It was with unexpected amazement that we discovered the low-budget movie “Harvest Time” (Vremia Zhatvi), a personal and extremely powerful film. You can bet Marina Razbezhkina’s masterpiece — let’s not be afraid of the word — is starting a successful international festival journey.

In the remote Russian countryside, in a Chuvash post-war village, life is precarious but tranquil for Tosya and her family. Being married to a legless war-handicapped husband, she takes care of two children and operates a combine-harvester with surprising skills. Enough to win an absurd regional socialist competition! Tosya is awarded the prestigious Red Banner and is expected to keep and cherish the object until next year’s competition. From then on, the life of this ‘Mother Russia’ becomes a slow ride of hellish proportion. The velvet banner in the modest house is transformed into a malediction for the little family, literally cursed by this too important symbol and object. Mice eat the banner, the husband starts drinking and Tosya becomes a little too concerned by the award, to the point of being surrealistically and literally possessed in a disturbing scene, somehow recalling Isabelle Adjani’s subway fit in Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession”. The rigorous 67-minute story ends with lucid melancholy and with a beautiful modern-day sequence that reminds the viewer that time passes, but symbols stay.

This is a first fiction film by the well-known documentary director, 47-year-old Marina Razbezhkina, who worked with an all-woman team (producers, cinematographer) on a shoestring budget of 90 000 US-Dollars. The result — using masterful documentary elements — is driven by a very free circulation of metaphorical suggestions, meditation and poetry, reminding us of the work of many old and recent Russian masters, to the point that some local film critics accused the film of being archaic in its slow and sometimes contemplative style. Lucid and critical about Russia’s past and present, the director uses feminism, silences, memorable scenes of pure transcendence (for instance the circus one, or the kids hallucinating that their father has legs, and many other unforgettable scenes) to create an evocative saga of humanism and humility. All this lyricism in a landscape of impersonal ‘new Russian’ films trying to compete with Hollywood. We saw a couple!

“Harvest Time”, despite its budget, is unique, passionate and poetic filmmaking nobody as the guts to do anymore. North American colleagues and European travelers should note that “Harvest Time ” will be screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September.