How about "45 minutes of great film followed by an hour of toothless cackling crones," our initial summation as we staggered out of a screening feeling slightly ill from the film’s centerpiece’s woozy camerawork (admittedly, our own fault â€” we were sitting up front and to the side). Now, nauseau long subdued, we’re more inclined to elaborate: Khrjanovsky, in his first film, seeks nothing less than to create a vision of
Russia’s subconscious, and the results are both unforgettable and so
unflattering that the film reportedly created a minor furor in his home
country. He’s an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker, and "4," before it becomes infatuated with its own Boschian imagery and falls into excessive cronage (cronyism?) and artiness, is haunting, gorgeous and relentlessly bleak.
In "4," the streets of Moscow are frozen and empty except for packs of wild dogs, constantly whining as if in pain, and huge, menacing municipal vehicles, which whir in clusters through the night or come crashing down into the street to commence apparently random construction efforts. The film starts up in the small hours of the morning, but we never feel that the city is ever more lively; it feels hollowed out, as if most of the population has fled. A prostitute, a meat salesman and a piano tuner walk into a bar, and, as the bartender nods off, have a meandering conversation in which they each tell fantastical lies about what they do for a living â€” Marina, the prostitute, claims to work in marketing for a Japanese device that mysteriously improves one’s sense of well-being; Oleg, the meat seller, says he delivers mineral water to the Kremlin; Volodya, the piano tuner, launches into a story of how he’s a scientist working in a cloning program. The three part and drift off into their own listlessly phantasmagoric adventures, though the film quickly become subsumed by Marina’s trip to a rural village to attend her sister’s funeral. In crowded, dark rooms in the muddy town populated almost entirely by old women who make dolls for a living, she and her two sisters get caught up in a seemingly unending series of near-orgiastic wakes in which the crones get drunk, riotous and sentimental on moonshine, eat a pig, and smear grease on their aging flesh.
The theme of fours occurs through the story (four clones, four dogs, four sisters, and, one can’t help but think, four horsemen of the apocalypse), but none of the images, for all of their portentousness and sometimes provocative grotesquerie, ever gathers meaning beyond adding to the film’s sense of overwhelming dread and stagnation. For the most part, Khrjanovsky avoids easy gloom, blanketing his film instead in overwhelming torpor. His character never seem to make it out of early morning, ever stumbling, half aware, into whatever comes next, and it’s generally bad.
Also, round piglets? We love.
Opens in New York.
+ 4 (official site)