Bite the Dust (Otdat Konci): Cannes Review
The only Russian film in Cannes' Official Selection this year is an apocalyptic comedy from debutant director Taisia Igumentseva.
A recurring joke in Bite the Dust (Otdat Konci) revolves around the Dardenne brothers' The Silence of Lorna, which is described as "very subtle." The phrase will certainly never be used about Taisia Igumentseva's strenuously madcap debut movie itself, however, the sole Russian entry in Cannes' official selection this year. Domestic audiences might raise a guffaw at the antics of these rural characters as they chaotically prepare for the end of the world in their remote riverside hamlet, but elsewhere this is marginal festival fare at best.
Igumentseva had a rather more successful trip to the Croisette last year when her short The Road To nabbed top prize in the Cinefondation section showcasing student talent. But as is so often the case, "the road to" feature length narrative proves a tricky one indeed. And it doesn't help that apocalyptic themes have been cropping up with such regularity over the past couple of years.
We can blame the Mayans and their pesky calendar for this particular trend, which has inspired arthouse favourites Lars Von Trier (Melancholia), Abel Ferrara (4:44 Last Day on Earth), Gregg Araki (Kaboom) and Bela Tarr (The Turin Horse), as well as the more multiplex-oriented 2012 and Seth Rogen's upcoming all-star This Is The End.
Best of the bunch, however, is perhaps Alexey Balabanov's Me Too, which so casually finds an ideal balance between comedy, ominousness and a very Russian strain of eccentricity. Balabanov, however, is a seasoned master of his craft, whereas Igumentseva and scriptwriter Alexandra Golovina betray their inexperience by straining too hard for their effects.
The first 20 minutes introduces the characters and their scenically remote milieu as captured by a place where time seems to have stopped still some time in the 20th century. Twentysomething widow Nina (Irina Denisova) provides the only cultural activity on view, screening art-movies using an overhead projector which all six of her adult neighbors attend: married couples Senia (Dmitry Kulichkov) and Nastya (Alina Sergeeva), Mikhail (Maksim Vitorgan) and Olga (Anna Rud), old farmer Vassilych (Yuris Lautsinsh), zany inventor Vanya (Sergey Abroskin) and doughty, Lenin-worshiping matriarch Zina (Yola Sanko).
The tight-knit mini-community is shaken from its cozy rhythms when TV news reveals that a "massive coronal emission" is just a couple of days away, and is predicted to wipe out 90 percent of humanity. This is the cue for much vodka consumption, the re-evaluation of relationships and even a little bit of bed-hopping, though not much in the way of serious gloom. And when the fateful moment passes without incident, the survivors breathe a sigh of relief - although this may turn out to be a little premature, as they soon have to cope with a truly biblical downpour.
The resulting flood gives proceedings a Beasts of the Southern Wild vibe, though the closest thing on view to a mighty Aurochs is "Candy," the beloved cow of vodka-swilling Vassilych which takes an increasingly prominent role in events. At one point the hapless bovine even appears in human 'drag' courtesy of Mikhail and Olga's playful moppets, typical of Igumentseva and Golovina's anything-goes pursuit of larkish laughs.
The pair are hamstrung by an evident desire to give each of the adult characters equal attention, meaning that the more interesting creations such as cinephile Nina and stick-in-the-mud 'grandma' Zina aren't fully developed. Latter stretches lurch into counterproductively noisy histrionics, before petering out with a finale that fumbles towards a delicately poetic ambiguity but falls - frustratingly, but by this stage predictably - just a little short.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings - Out of Competition)
Production company: Studio Rock
Cast: Irina Denisova, Sergey Abroskin, Yola Sanko, Maksim Vitorgan, Alina Sergeeva, Dmitry Kulichkov, Anna Rud, Yuris Lautsinsh
Director: Taisa Igumentseva
Screenwriter: Alexandra Golovina
Producers: Alexey Uchitel, Kira Saksaganskaya
Director of photography: Sasha Tananov
Production designer: Ekaterina Shakhunova
Costume designer: Nadezhda Vasilieva
Editor: Arkady Noskov
International sales: Versatile, Paris
No MPAA rating, 101 minutes