Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Russian Film Week ’21: In Deep Sleep

Is Russia finally waking up to Putin? Maybe, judging from the huge Navalny protests. Regardless, the Russian economy has been asleep for years and the nation’s institutions of civil society have been corrupted by the former KGB agent in charge. Can we therefore interpret this art-house fantasia of a Russia mysteriously stuck in a state of unnatural slumber as a commentary on Putin’s authoritarian regime? Viewers certainly have the time and space to develop their own interpretations while watching Maria Ignatenko’s In Deep Sleep, which screens as part of the online Russian Film Week USA.

Viktor was always prone to anti-social behavior, but the death of his wife made him even worse. He is not expressive, but he is definitely hurting inside. We know he comes to a bad end from the prologue, but we will see from flashbacks how he reached this point—sort of.

The centerpiece of the film is the long, eerie passage of the commercial fishing vessel crew-member returning to his hardscrabble industrial port, only to find the entire town asleep in their cars, places of business, or out in the open, exposed to the elements. Viktor even tries to save one elderly sleeper from the harsh Russian winter.

The weird nocturnal sleeping scenes are indeed quite striking, but Ignatenko’s use of flashbacks is often confusing.
In Deep Sleep looks haunting yet gritty, but the intended takeaways remain obscure. Obviously, Viktor’s isolation and loneliness are a symbolic product of grief-related depression, but the hard-bitten protagonist is a difficult figure to embrace or even fully understand.

Vadik Korolyov gives a cold, uncompromising performance as Viktor, which suits the cold, uncompromising film. Still, despite his stony reserve, he manages to suggest just how close the fisherman is to breaking. As his wife, Ludmila Duplyakina looks and sounds (or rather sings) like she could be a character in
Twin Peaks, which is also probably about right. Yet, the real star is cinematographer Veronika Solovyeva, who makes viewers feel all the frost and depression in every shot.

Yes, I am sticking with the interpretation of
In Deep Sleep as an anti-Putin metaphor and nobody can stop me, not even Ignatenko. That is really the only way to extract some hope from the film. It is arresting on a surface level, but it fails to significantly connect any emotional subtext. It is impressively auteurist, but hollow on the inside. Just recommended for the hardest hardcore cineastes, In Deep Sleep screens virtually today (1/26), as part of this year’s Russian Film Week USA.