Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

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Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Aug 17, 2006 5:52 am

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*A 2006 U.S. Release*


***possible spoilers***

The opening shot of Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 has been rightfully celebrated: a meticulously composed image, consisting of a quartet of wild dogs resting on a street during a winter night, is suddenly intruded upon by heavy machinery looking to demolish everything in its path, which quite possibly signifies the end of Russias post-Soviet malaise while insinuating the countrys growth towards "re-industrialization." But at what cost and at whose expense are just a couple among numerous fascinating queries showcased by the filmmaker in his unique and groundbreaking debut feature.

In 4, nothing is what it seems, a quandary certainly prevalent at the heart of the films bravura, masterfully-shot 30-minute scene which serves as the centerpiece of the first half. An otherwise empty Moscow bar at way past midnight is livened up by three strangers -- Marina (Marina Vovchenko), Volodia (Sergey Shnurov) and Oleg (Yury Laguta), who had been individually introduced to us earlier -- as they amuse one another with false stories involving their professions, not leaving many stones unturned. Their mostly relaxed, Linklater-esque discussion segues into such topics as secret human cloning projects, Kremlins extracurriculars, Chinas rise, etc. -- all tangentially indicative of Russias "postmodern" turmoil (which Khrzhanovsky attempts to exploit at every turn).

The second half, which primarily focuses on Marina, begins with her physical journey through dilapidated rural landscape, bringing to mind Bla Tarr's Damnation (1988) and Stntang (1994), especially the former due to Khrzhanovsky's emphasis on a rich, industrially ambient sound-design. Her destination turns out to be a Stalker-esque village -- Khrzhanovsky also evoked Solaris [1972] in an earlier sequence shot from a car's dashboard -- teeming with "babushkas," who are in mourning due to the death of Marina's sister Zoya. (At the village, we do however get to witness Marinas two other siblings who appear to be identical-twins.) Before Zoyas death, this godforsaken place was being run from selling dolls made out of masticated bread (the kind Svankmajer would love to own), which she used to mold in a manner to give each one a distinctive trait.

4, for which the Moscow-born Khrzhanovsky worked with radical, controversial Russian scribe Vladimir Sorokin, whose novel "Blue Lard" reportedly featured Khrushchev and Stalin in compromising situations, is part of Russias recent Necrorealist movement, mostly featuring underground works that have been described as sef-consciously inflammatory who feast upon the putrefying corpse of the Soviet state. No wonder that in the film while the old hags are busy belting out a patriotic, Stalin-era number (cant remember if that was before or after they exposed and started playing with their mammary glands), Khrzhanovsky abruptly cuts to Volodia slaving away in a prison with countless others, not long before theyre sent to fight in a war in order to "atone for their sins." Also, the doll factorys dispirited young head (and Zoyas boyfriend) is usually seen walking around in a drunken haze, constantly cursing "metal scum" for their putrid, marginalized existence. (4, an official Russian production, was banned upon its initial release in Russia; the authorities demanded major cuts to the film.)

The numerological significance of the title is never quite made explicit by Khrzhanovsky, though he constantly brings it to attention both visually and narratively. "It was never sacred in any culture's history Four!," one of his characters once muses, ultimately referring to the first Russian incubator to successfully propagate "doubles." "Its the number the world rests on." But that never takes away from the directors visionary stylistic tics, encompassing a range usually only witnessed in masterworks.

Winner of the "Tiger" (Best Film) and "The Golden Cactus" (Theo van Gogh's in-memorium for maverick filmmakers) awards at the 2005 Rotterdam Film Festival, 4 is a challenging and uncompromising effort, but unlike, for example, Carlos Reygadas Battle in Heaven (2005), a film 4 shares certain aesthetical traits with, it respects its audience which eventually becomes an inviting aspect to say the least. Indeed, and very much like an Apichatpong Weerasethakul parable, Khrzhanovskys film is partially willing to reveal its taxonomies upon being asked the pertinent questions. No wonder the experience is at once exhilarating and exhausting, which is what cinema should more often strive to provide.

Grade: A-
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*4 premiered at the 2005 Rotterdam Film Festival. The film was released in the U.S. earlier this year by Leisure Time Features.

*Available on DVD in the U.K. (ICA). The Russian DVD of the film also features English subs.
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arsaib4
 


Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby trevor826 » Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:52 am

Thanks for your marvelous review and I'm glad you've had the chance to see it. You have managed to include some wonderful terminology some of which is completely new to me "Necrorealist movement" for one which is a wonderfully descriptive term.

It has been a while since I've seen 4 but I do remember the number constantly figuring throughout the film, to list even a few of the times would neccessitate spoilers which I'm glad to say are virtually non-existent in your review.

This film unfortunately didn't get a theatrical release here but I would definitely reccomend 4 (Chetyre) to everyone as an interesting albeit at times slightly disturbing look at post communist Russia.

One point that is clearly raised, for the people who've lived long lives under a state that virtually controls their whole lives basically making them institutionalised, even a modicum amount of freedom is too much for them to cope with. They simply have no idea how to deal with it.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby A » Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:38 am

Great to see that you get such controversial films released in The US and UK (at least on DVD). I'm still waiting for it to appear in Germany, but the reviews I've read so far were all positive, so I'll just cross my fingers.
I think the director said in an interview that every shot of the film always had four elements in it. Quite a task, if you try not to get annoying with this.
Arsaib, you mention the film being banned in Russia. Do you have more information about it? I'd like to know how long this ban lasted, what the official explanation for it was, and if anything was cut or changed from the original version.
A
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Aug 18, 2006 2:06 am

Films such as 4 almost inspire you write about them, so it was fun. Usually it's difficult to come up with anything, at least in my case.

Necrorealism, which apparently began in the early 1980's, deals with, to put it simply, "the mutual contamination of life and death," and it has been manifested in all art forms, not just film.

"One point that is clearly raised, for the people who've lived long lives under a state that virtually controls their whole lives basically making them institutionalised, even a modicum amount of freedom is too much for them to cope with. They simply have no idea how to deal with it. "

True. The same could be said about the subjects in Manderlay

A: I don't have further info regarding the ban. But the official Russian DVD which I mentioned does contain the full feature w/out cuts.
arsaib4
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby trevor826 » Fri Aug 18, 2006 9:15 am

I haven't seen Manderlay yet, I will catch it soon though.

I'll have to investigate the topic of "Necrorealism", was it mainly based in Russia or is it more of a Worldwide movement?

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby justindeimen » Sat Aug 19, 2006 2:03 pm

Thanks for the review!

I'm getting the DVD in soon and I can't wait to check this out. I imported in while not knowing much of the plot or its buzz, just for a thrill I suppose. Now I'm quite sure this risk will be paying off. I'm only unsure if the UK DVD I'm getting has hardcoded subs or not.
justindeimen
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Aug 19, 2006 4:36 pm

"I'll have to investigate the topic of "Necrorealism", was it mainly based in Russia or is it more of a Worldwide movement?"

So far I've only come across it being referenced as a Russian movement which began in the Leningrad art scene. Sokurov's former student, experimental filmmaker Yevgeniy Yufit, was one of its founders. More Info.

I believe the UK DVD has burnt-in subs.
arsaib4
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby trevor826 » Sun Aug 20, 2006 12:32 pm

I believe the UK DVD has burnt-in subs.

Unfortunately yes it does. Also thanks for the info and link arsaib4.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby wpqx » Tue Jan 09, 2007 7:49 am

Well the film came out about two weeks ago on DVD here in the US, and I've had to wait this long to be able to get a copy. Parts of the film were quite baffling to me, and the whole "plot" contained in the second half of the film was a complete mystery to me. Thanks to arsaib's review I was able to at least comprehend some of what I was viewing, but things don't exactly connect in nice linear packages here. There are a lot of things I liked about the film, including almost all of the shot choices, but the film didn't really come together for me. Not sure what I was expecting.
wpqx
 

Re: Ilya Khrzhanovskys 4 (Russia / 2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:44 am

I'm very encouraged by the fact that you saw the film and were able to get something out of it. You're right, not everything comes together perfectly, but that just may have been the intention, especially considering the subject matter. Since it made quite an impression on me the first time, I went back to the film soon after I saw it. If I hadn't done that, I probably wouldn't have been able to review it. I'm looking forward to Khrzhanovsky's upcoming projects.
arsaib4
 

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