Monday, January 31, 2011

New Russian Shorts, Post-Sundance

New Yorkers are paranoid about bedbugs, but evidently Russians have to worry about far more dangerous mutations. If you choose to believe television news reports, they are as big as dogs and attack people right on the street. Several average Russians face extreme situations (including those mutant parasites) in three short films from emerging Russian filmmakers visiting New York, by way of Park City, for a special New Russian Shorts screening this Tuesday in Tribeca, sponsored by CEC ArtsLink.

In Elena Bychkova’s Express Course in Buddhism, there is a whole lot of worldliness happening on a train full of randy demobilized soldiers, but Stas is beyond on that. He has just shaved his head in anticipation of a life dedicated to Zen Buddhist studies. However, the teacher who visits him during his meditations has an important piece of advice: do not ignore the cute girl trying to talk to him. What starts as a Kung Fu like device, takes a droll Woody Allen turn before Bychkova’s smart film ends on a rather ironic note. Deftly balancing contradicting tones, Express is quite an accomplished work, especially for a graduate film, yet it is the clever supporting turn form the Buddhist teacher that really gives the film its unique character.

Two young lovers look like they might have walked out of a Chekhov story, but instead of an anticipated eclipse, they are in for a sort of mad Walpurgis Night in Anton Koskov’s Abyss. Though there are hints of the supernatural, the real horror is supplied by human nature, which Abyss suggests will revert to savagery when given the opportunity. Though not likely to win Koskov a feminist filmmaker award any time soon, it is a handsomely rendered film. Dmitrij Vladimirov’s lush sunsets and eerily flickering fires create an atmosphere of malevolent seduction perfect for the film’s paganism.

Perhaps the best film of a strong program, Sergey Groznov’s We Were Watching TV . . . examines how ordinary Russians process news reports of the promised, yet still unseen, mutant bedbugs as they simultaneously work through their own problematic relationships. On one level, it offers a subversive commentary on the tabloid media, while portraying three couples with very different but believably down-to-earth problems. In particular, Evgeniy Stichkin and Elvira Bolgova establish a good bickering, bantering rhythm as the final couple, Misha and Anna.

Though very different in terms of mood, all three films share a sense of hyper-realism, approaching genre cinema, yet never quite crossing the threshold. Polished productions, all three are worth checking out when they screen this Tuesday (2/1) at the Tribeca Cinemas, under the auspices of CEC ArtsLink, the City’s leading programmer of Russian cultural programs.