Мишень (The Target) (LFF, BFI South Bank 26 October)


This example of large-scale conceptualism with disparate elements plonked next to each other and not reacting left me asking Why? The audience marked the end of the film’s 165 minutes or so with respectful applause and presumably were more impressed than I was.

The action takes place in a Chinese-influenced Russia of 2020, which has been co-screenwriter Vladimir Sorokin’s favourite locale recently.  In fact the Chinese elements seemed to me more effective as words in a text rather than things seen on screen, though I did like some of the gadgets such as the videophone in various forms (including a fan).

The story is that five characters with far too much time and money visit an abandoned cosmic ray detector in Siberia in search of the secret of eternal youth.  And they get that I am going to live forever and always be happy feeling.  It doesn’t work out.

We are going to live forever and always be happy!

That’s  from Bunin of course, but we also get Anna Karenina in the form of Zoya, the wife of the Minister of Natural Resources who has an affair with Nikolai, the amateur jockey and ‘mobile Customs’ officer.  And there are some lovely pictures of Siberia and Moscow among other things.  But to me it just didn’t hang together or mean anything, and I was left with a feeling of wasted effort.

Justine Waddell as Zoya, for instance, must have half-killed herself to get her Russian that convincing.  Though I have absolutely no idea why they chose a non-Russian actress to play a character who is sister to one of the other leading characters and so can hardly be a foreigner.  And the woman who does the ‘Chinese for dummies’ programme on the radio is played by a Serbian actress (Daniela Stoyanovich).  There’s an explanation from the director  here–it comes down to a distancing (or alienation) effect, though again it’s not quite clear why this only applies to the women, especially when we recall that Taya (who is played by a Russian actress) is a 52-year-old in the body of a 19-year-old.

In retrospect, I think that Zel’dovich (director) and Sorokin just had too long to think about this film and came up with too many ideas they didn’t want to discard.  If you had the Anna Karenina story in the Chinese pseudofuture that would be fine, as would eternal youth starting from a realistic setting–in either case you have the known rubbing against the unknown. But there are too many strange things in what they decided to do!

It's not going to work out, is it?

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