"Tolya": Imagining Reality By Thomas Rothschild

in 7th Perm Flahertiana - International Documentary Film Festival

by Thomas Rothschild

It starts like a conventional documentary film: A man, pointing to the skyline in the background, showing the camera the buildings he has been working on. We are in Israel, but our hero with a big moustache comes from Russia, as does the director of the film, Rodeon Brodsky. On International Women’s Day the workers rush to a public telephone box along the road to congratulate their wives or girl friends at home. Tolya fails to do so because he has lost his teeth and can hardly pronounce a word. He seems desperate until he finds a solution: He meows into the phone like a cat in love very much to the great amusement and pleasure of his Natasha, whom we hear laughing far away.

Tolya, overall, lasts ten minutes only. It has been a big success at many festivals already and is a convincing example that a student’s film can be a masterwork. Rodeon Brodsky is only 26 years old and in his third year at film school. Tolya also proves that long films are not necessarily better then short ones if, what they try to convey, does not need more than – in this case – ten minutes. Tolya is a joke, a filmic anecdote.

Tolya, of course, also raises the old discussion about staging in a documentary film. A purist understanding of documentary will not accept Tolya. However, if one defines documentary as no “actor” playing a role other then himself, Tolya certainly can be considered a documentary. Be that as it may: it is a dramaturgically well constructed little piece of art anyway. Maybe that is more important than the inconclusive discussion about definitions.

At the “Flahertiana” in Perm Tolya was one out of six films lasting less than thirty minutes in competition as compared to fourteen longer films. This reflects a situation in which documentary films have become more popular in recent years even in a commercial context, but short films still have difficulties to find their way onto screens. Very few film directors decide to make short films after they have finished their studies. It is likely that we will hear from Rodeon Brodsky in the future. Very likely he will make full-length feature films. But who knows: maybe Tolya will stay the success one will remember.