4

"Excellent"

4 Review


Ilya Khrzhanovsky's spellbinding debut makes a new name and puts new stress on the often ignored Russian cinematic community. Obviously influenced by Soviet forefathers Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Sokurov, 4 might be 2006's most surreal attempt at storytelling and, along with Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the year's most assured debut.

Marina (real-life stripper Marina Vovchenko) arises from a bed of naked bodies, only one of which is male, and pulls a purple shirt over her shoulders. She takes her money for services rendered and walks to a bar where she meets a piano tuner named Volodya (Sergei Shnurov) and a butcher house boss named Oleg (Yuri Laguta). Volodya seems the most talkative, ruminating on the history of clones and the existentialism behind the number four. When they all leave, Volodya goes to a dance club, waxes philosophically with the bar's owner about reality and eventually gets arrested for what sounds like breaking and entering. Oleg, on the other hand, is dealing with his overbearing, loving father and disputing the existence of "perfectly round pigs."

Marina becomes Khrshanovsky's main focus halfway through the film as she travels to the small village of Shutilovo for her sister's funeral. A dingy, perverse land, Shutilovo seems to be inhabited solely by elderly women who get drunk and make dolls. The faces for the dolls are made by molding chewed-up bread into distinct faces, but the ability to make the faces particular and specialized has died with Marina's sister. Thusly the entire community has sunk into an insane depression that culminates in a suicide, a rather unpleasant devouring of a dead pig and a cathartic burning of all the leftover dolls.

Filmed by four separate cinematographers and scribed by Russian avant-garde novelist Vladimir Sorokin, 4 blooms gently into a gorgeously askew symbol of the Soviet revolution, the Communist era, and the country's perplexed culture. Though its metaphors constantly get muddled, it's easy to see that Khrzhanovsky's film is dealing with hefty philosophical ideas and rather eccentric political notions. Besides the recurring titular number that seems to be woven into the mise-en-scene, there's a peculiar fascination with the idea of identity in terms of the physical manifestation of a person. Repetition of certain conversations and scenes becomes apparent along with physical themes (dogs, eating, women singing) but it never becomes as annoyingly apparent as to bludgeon the viewer's experience.

Lastly, though not sharply rendered, 4's imagery construction has got to be one of the most intriguing proposals to date from this year. The opening shot of dogs sitting around, jolted to life by four huge mechanical drills (they look like giant cyborg fingers) isn't just a symbol of the film's jolting effect, but of the apocalyptic state of modern Eastern Europe, Russia specifically. Stories of the film's crew and creators being attacked both physically and verbally are not surprising given its verbose ponderings. Though not for the faint of heart, Khrzhanovsky's malcontent mindbender relates us to a desolate area on the edge of humanity, at times both hallucinatory and all too real.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Ilya Khrzhanovsky

Producer: Yelena Yatsura

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