Saturday, November 18, 2017

RFW-London ’17: Attraction

This could be a case of karma coming back around on a galactic scale. After invading Ukraine, Russia just might find itself on the receiving end of a UFO invasion. However, the rebellious daughter of the Colonel in charge of Moscow’s defenses becomes convinced it is all a misunderstanding. In any event, Poland hopes they enjoy the resulting martial law in Fedor Bondarchuk’s Attraction (trailer here), which kicks off this year’s Russian Film Week in London.

So much for all the assurances Yulia Lebedeva’s science teacher made about the safety of meteor storms. Something else invaded Russian airspace—something big. Naturally, the Russian Air Force opens fire, sending it hurtling into Moscow’s heavily populated Chertanovo district. Frankly, there is more self-inflicted home turf destruction in Attraction than even the lame Roland Emmerich Godzilla, but of course Lebedeva’s delinquent boyfriend Artyom and his punky pals still blame the aliens.

Initially, Lebedeva blames them too, but she changes her mind when one saves her life. Instead, it will be the gawky Hekon who is badly wounded and thrown clear of his bionic bio-ware mecha suit (they sort of look like Man-Thing covered in spandex). Lebedeva will hide him from both the military and the low-life vigilantes flocking around Artyom, but he will need to retrieve a glowy thingy called “Shilk” (no articles), before he can safely leave the planet.

According to Bondarchuk, Attraction was inspired by the 2013 anti-immigrant Biryulyovo riots, which is rather surprising, considering Bondarchuk obediently signed a statement endorsing Putin’s military aggression in Ukraine. There is no question Attraction makes the Russian military look reckless and irresponsible, whereas Artyom’s “Earth Power” mob certainly suggests parallels the Pan-Slavic Russian nationalism used to justify invasions of Ukraine and Georgia.

Regardless, Oleg Menshikov is terrific as steely old Col. Lebedev. As Artyom, Alexander Petrov certainly captures the chilling self-righteousness of the hardcore activist class. Unfortunately, Irina Starshenbaum and Rinal Mukhametov have little chemistry or charisma in general as Lebedeva and Hekon. The great Sergei Garmash is also grossly under-employed as the Deputy PM, who seems to be calling all the shots in the government.

There is no question Attraction was greatly “inspired” by The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yet, on a very immediate level, it is rather encouraging to see a Russian event-movie of this scale advocating tolerance and asking questions first before shooting. The spacecraft special effects are also exponentially better than what you might expect. Unfortunately, the uneven cast gives us too many embarrassing moments worthy of the 1998 Godzilla. Still, they cannot complain, because cinematographer Mikhail Khasaya gives it a sense of scope and grandeur, while also keeping it relatively “real” looking.

Apparently, if there was a Russian Film Week this year in New York, it was drastically scaled back. Perhaps this is another way Putin’s lackeys hope to punish us for the Magnitsky Act, but it is really emerging Russian filmmakers who will suffer, without a sympathetic showcase in the media capital of the world. Interestingly, London, the home of the “Steele Dossier” was deemed A-Okay. Regardless, Attraction is a fascinating example of how genre films reflect the prevailing social neuroses, but as a viewing experience in its own right, it is a rather messy and often klutzy affair. Recommended solely as a curiosity piece, Attraction screens tomorrow (11/19), launching this year’s Russian Film Week in London.