Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MIFF session 4: A Stoker

Modern urban folktale about a humbled aged warrior who rises up against the evil he has seen around him when it gets personal. Ex-Major Ivan Skryabin stokes the furnaces in the basement where he works and lives and taps away at an old typewriter, telling a tale from the history of his Yakut people. Other ex-soldiers who are now gangsters regularly bring corpses in for informal cremation. Ivan's daughter is involved with one of them who is two timing with the gang boss' daughter. You see where it's going. And it does.

So, a lean 'n' mean crime story? No, it really is a folk tale dressed in post-Soviet garb. Action sequences, particularly kills, happen swiflty and decisively with an almost naive neatness. Ivan's realisation that leads to his vengeance is done quietly. We see his emotion but he never been in the habit of showing more than a hint of it. So, lean, at least? Well, no, apart from the kills we are presented with continual evidence that it takes a lot of time and effort to walk anywhere in St Petersberg. Add to that the four easy listening latin guitar tracks that are plastered end to end on high rotation until the climax, after which a new one is introduced. This at first looks sloppy and cheap but the repetition of the music is so unignorable and patterned that is clearly intentional; a kind of bullish muzak as authentically Russian as the Yakut furs are Yakut that Ivan's daughter sells in the shop where she works.

But through all this hard surface we can yet see the heart beating and it is that of Ivan and his lost tradition. A silent but narrated coda delivers the story he has been writing about a Russian's oafish assaults on a simple Yakut family.

If what we have seen seems naive or shallow we are best to remind ourselves that the account we have just been through is not meant to be sophisticated but a true and heartfelt rendering of events by a (mostly) gentle soul who could relate them in no other way.

This won't be my favourite from the fest ... but it's working its way in.

1 comment:

  1. I've since learned that the music that so tormented me throughout the first part of this film effectively dates the story in the 1990s and the fragmentary state of culture and law and order in post Soviet Russia. Thank you, Screen Machine