The 4 Obstructions By Susanna Harutyunyan

in 23th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Susanna Harutyunyan

Russian debutante Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s 4 was one of the most widely talked about films of the festival. It was shown on the first day, instantly becoming a source of real intrigue. And it was not that someone doubted that the film would win one the three Tigers, but rather, because of a certain provocation underlying the film, everybody needed to be clear on their own politics. It is this fact that allows me to speak of that film as of a noteworthy event in today’s Russian cinema.

To tell the truth, our jury was about to give the award to Khrzhanovsky’s film. But of the two films that were in the lead ( 4 and Spying Cam by Whang Cheal-Mean) the South Korean film was chosen to be the winner for its greater humanitarian approach, and also because everybody was sure that 4 would get a Tiger. But even finalizing the decision, the jury was discussing, partly in jest, of giving 4 a special prize for the best starting four minutes.

Anyway, what makes this film appear in the spotlight – the provocation, parallel-ism, hopelessness, or the talent of the film director? Without running into extremes, I would like to say all of the above is undoubtedly inherent in the film, but rather in the form of obstructions or tricks. The director plays with all this and does it with great ease, which is no less shocking than all that is shown in the film.

Being in Tiger Competition, 4 was presented to the festival audience as a part of Russian “parallel cinema” which is “always unexpected because nobody waits for it,” as Russian visual and performance artist Anatoly Osmolosky speaks about it, “and that’s why the alternative always means a clash.” He continues, “Moral and aesthetic stereotypes are called into question and society is never ready for that.”

The clash of moral and aesthetic stereotypes is undoubtedly present in the film, on the same level with the ironic view of society and of Soviet-era mythology. It is not by chance that the old village women sing the well-known song by Dunaevsky, “Shiroka Strana Moya Rodnaya” – a kind of a symbolic cliché of the Stalin era. Moreover, if we compare this film with the first “attuned” wave of parallel cinema of the ’80s (among the pioneers of Russian parallel cinema are the Aleynikov brothers, Aleksander Dulerain, and Boris Yukhananov), 4 is undoubtedly more politicized and more pessimistic. It is because the fifteen post-Soviet years have destroyed not only the totalitarian system and ideology, but have also shattered the dreams of liberal romantics about the bright democratic future of Russia. The portrait of contemporary times depicted in the film is an absurd mosaic of two almost incompatible worlds – “new” Russians and village life. The only thing that unites them is the common space of lies and crime, another obstruction by the film director.

Retribution overtakes the film’s heroes in the form of stray dogs, which jump under the cars of ‘new Russians’, kill clones, and eat ‘doll-clones’. Such Russia is frightening (because the arguments about the ‘great mission of Russia’ and ‘mysterious Russian soul’ have nowadays reanimated) as the holy place’ turned out to be empty and the most horrible dream of consciousness turned into reality.

But that is the trick and the obstruction that the film director plays with all these extremely important subjects: cloning, lies, social and political change in Russia. He makes a pseudo-parallel movement film, a sort of a big movie that is, of course, shocking and radical in its form and content. This is a film that aspires for commercial success. This is not the kind of a parallel movement film shot out of film studios, with almost no budget, by people who do not strive for public recognition and success. This is a completely different movie requiring great financial and technical resources. It is a film included in the official film production system. An that’s why the director and the producer, Elena Yatsura, needed so much the Tiger award, which would guarantee the distribution of the film and also be a trump card in their negotiations with the Russian State Cinema authorities. And they got everything they wanted, so let us join in congratulating them.