If you thought things were retrogressing in Russia, you. Have. No. Idea.
See Durakovo: Les Village des Fous (Village of Fools), Nino Kirtadze's fiercely brave film (brave, as in: "how did you manage to *be* in that presence, to get that footage?" . . . "weren't you terrified?" . . . quick and simple answer to the latter: "Yes." Kirtadze tells me that it was her most "joyless shoot" ever).
Durakovo is a village owned by Mikhail Morozov, who sees himself as a kind of savior, helping "the willing" to see the follies of Western Democracy and helping them return to tsarist-regime-life (and loving it!). He is the sole authority. He thinks for them, doles out their roles (the film opens on a scene of two villagers bailing shit while one asks his friend to sing him a "patriotic song") and "helps" them to determine their fate. We see dogs (in pens, to be sure, although i kept wondering when the "performance" might end and the dogs released), a gated wall, and inside, a sort of lovely, fairy-tale castle-type village. Kirtadze is lucky to be present when Oleg arrives. Oleg is brought by his mother, and he is clearly unhappy and uncertain but agrees to go inside for a meeting w/ Morozov. We discover that Oleg is university educated, has a law degree and experience but has become disenchanted and confused. he carries a kerchief and frequently seems to be on the verge of tears, wiping at the corner of his eyes. Morozov persuades him to come and join the community, and Oleg's consent is heartbreaking to see. However, Kirtadze's camera is privy to a glimmer of resentment in Oleg's eye at a town-hall-type meeting in which Morozov speaks on the failings (evils) of Western Democracy and ends the meeting with the classic 12-step serenity prayer (which is, from my perspective, a rhetorically wicked, "easy," and, well, unoriginal shot at control).
The people we see in the village seem unwilling or unable to speak, slightly fearful, sad, and silent. Kirtadze's use of silence in her "interview" footage is brilliantly haunting. touches of Hitchcockian imagery aid in creating the dystopian vision (which needs no particular cinematic help. One need only show up, point, and shoot).
Kirtadze is given access to key meetings of government officials clearly desirous of return to a glorious imperial Russia. discussions include building of alliances with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba, possibly China. the US is right out.
It is of course a film about a people who feel they have been let down by the ideals of the outside. And in this, i read in the eyes of the villagers something beyond fear. this tension . . . exploring a desire for an easier way that comes at the cost of individual autonomy . . . is important in helping us to see the film as more than a condemnation of Durakovo but as an exploration of a people trying to work it out.
An important and terrifying film. see it.
see details at the sundance site.
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