'Blood' ('Krov'): Vladivostok Review

Courtesy of Vladivostok Pacific-Meridian International Film Festival
A precise, concise torrent of images from one of Russia's best young documentary-makers

Chaos quietly reigns as Alina Rudnitskaya follows a team of blood-donation nurses across smalltown Russia

Clocking in at just under an hour, it's short; teeming with scenes featuring fumbling and inappropriately feisty medical workers, it's sharp; with many a scene of blood pumping in and out of bodies — both intact or cut open — it's certainly a shock. But Russian filmmaker Alina Rudnitskaya's latest documentary goes well beyond merely just the raw and the visceral: Blood is also a cerebral, multi-layered piece about the organization of women workers in a social system slowly cast asunder in economic quicksand.

Having traveled the documentary-festival circuit for nearly a year now after its world premiere at last year's IDFA, Blood'sbow last week at Vladivostok — where it won a special jury prize — heralded its presence at bigger, mainstream events, including screenings at the London Film Festival next month. While its length might hinder circulation for proper theater releases (its 59-minute run would fit perfectly for a television berth), Blood's black-and-white cinematography is definitely at its most powerful when seen on a big screen.

Central to Rudnitskaya's documentary is a team of female nurses who travel around broke, post-industrial Russian towns collecting blood from what seem to be eager hordes of donors — their enthusiasm driven less by simple civic-mindedness than the 850-rouble (US$22) reward which could help with their lives in places where unemployment is more the norm than the exception.

Veering away from the easy option of conjuring sympathy with images of the desperate urban poor, Rudnitskaya instead opts for humorous verité. Amid the sea of bored faces, there's a lot of fainting, freaking out and fumbling with stretched-out arms and dated modus operandi: the team leader frowns as she explains how she is to account for the amount of collected blood in terms of buckets rather than more modern, metric measurements.

With inventive visual flourish, Rudnitskaya connects the corporeal with the corporate, the surgical with the social; Blood is about showing the machinations of a post-communist Russian society still floundering at the precipice of its rapid lurch toward capitalism. In this case, the representations of the nurses' everyday existence — at work and at play — make perfect sense, as their lives, which could easily be seen as vampire-like given their line of work, is as much a testament to this society as those who are selling blood to survive. And some do lead existences which are hardly a pretty sight, especially Olga, whose unruliness at the donation booths during the day is matched by her love of booze and boy toys during the evening.

But Blood is anything but misogynist: Olga's behavior might be unsavory at times, and comical always, but to allow a glimpse into such a way of countering workplace pressure is in itself emancipation for Rudnitskaya's able, generous and no-nonsense working-class heroines. If the blood here is deployed to represent the flow of capital, Blood as a film is about human labor, its discontents and how people react to them — and, more specifically, how women are to confront these challenges, a theme in many of Rudnitskaya's previous efforts (a female provincial choir in Kiss Me Harder; a school teaching young women to manipulate men in Bitch Academy).

And as macho men struggle to remain conscious while giving blood, or row about the pittance they are paid for it, the women — the donors, the nurses, the hospital staff — press on. At the end of the film, a celebratory dinner ends with a health official (the only man in the room) describing the nurses as being well-organized to the point of nearly being invisible.

The film's fluctuating sentiments and circumstances are thoroughly well-captured by Rudnitskaya's quartet of cameramen, and spliced together with energy and beauty by the director and screenwriter/co-editor Sergey Vinokurov. There will be blood, and brooding moments which reveal a lot  about Russians fighting for their well-being away from the bling-fueled cityscapes.

Production company: 317 Film

Director: Alina Rudnitskaya

Screenwriter: Sergey Vinokurov

Producer: Alina Rudnitskaya

Cinematographers: Alexander Filippov, Yuri Gaytsel, Sergey Maksimov, Aleksandr Demianenko

Editors: Alina Rudnitskaya, Sergey Vinokurov

Music: Olafur Arnalds

International Sales: Deckert Distribution

In Russian

No rating; 59 minutes