Tuesday, December 05, 2006

4: Film Review

"You'll either love it or hate it," has become a total cliche when it comes to describing movies, but in the case of the Russian film 4 by Ilya Khrzhanovsky, it probably holds true. Whichever way you end up feeling about it, it does tend to provokes strong emotions... Considering which, I'm surprised the film didn't seem to make a bigger splash here in the US (maybe I just missed it.

It's rare to encounter a film that's so thoroughly and totally original in its images, its tone, its structure. 4 tells the story--if that's the right wordd--of 3 strangers who meet in a bar.
Each of them has a depressing job in modern, post-Communist Russia--piano tuner, prostitute and meat seller--and during a long, excellently-written boozey scene each of them makes up lies about themselves. The piano tuner says he's a genetic scientist, the prostitute says she's a advertising executive and so on. The narrative then follows each of them out of the bar, and into their lives over the next few days. We follow the prostitute in particular as she goes home to a thoroughly appaling village--a sort of anti-pastoral--for the funeral of her sister, where old women eke out a living by making doll heads out of chewed up bread. (Yep, you read that right).

Some have argued that the film is exploitative: the old women in the prostitute's village are real people, not actors, and the film-maker seems to go out of his way to lay bare all their repulsiveness, stupidity, and vulgarity. The film was actually banned in Russia because it was deemed that it painted such a negative picture of the country and its people. I didn't feel that the film was so much exploitative as generally misanthropic, a misanthropy so inclusive it also encompasses poor people: not the most attractive of sentiments, but one which I feel is--and should be--permissable in art.

4 really blows other recent films labelled as 'surreal' out of the water, such as Mulholland Drive (I watched it a few nights before 4 so it was on the brain) which have been labelled "surreal, dreamlike, disturbing, orginal, inventive." If you've got the stomach for it, 4 makes for an evening of of the most disturbing, funny, revolting, depressing, misanthropic, thought-provoking, eerie viewing around. You'll never see another movie quite like it. Now how often can you say that about a film and know, with certainty, that it's the truth? 4 is just that kind of film.

FilmStocker Rating: A- (with the warning that it's got some shocking scenes. A hate it or love it kind of picture!)