Picking Golden Oranges in Antalya: ‘Mukha’ by Vladimir Kott

// газета "Sunday Zaman"

Film festival transport and shuttle bus services are a great way to meet people. Suzanne Swan met Yevgeny Gindilis in transit somewhere between the Sheraton Voyageur and Hillside Su hotels.                                
Gindilis is the producer of «Mukha» (the Fly), the only Russian film entry at the Fourth Eurasia International Film Festival in Antalya. It is a family drama, written and directed by Vladimir Kott, and is a co-production with TVIndie Films.

«Mukha» is a beautifully crafted film, and I am backing it as a dark horse in the Eurasia Film Festival. It already has two awards to its credit, most prominently Best Feature Film at the Shanghai International Film Festival this year.

The film reminds me of «Baghdad Café„ because of its rough edges, deadbeat location, emotional hang-ups and quirky story line, but also because it turns up the humor and restores faith in humanity just when you want to cry. And just when laughter provides relief, sadness intrudes.

„Mukha’s“ plot is a prosaic platform that gives scope to the drama: A truck driver who has spent more time with roadside whores than with his wife returns to an isolated, rural village in Russia after she dies. She leaves him a key to the house and a mandate to care for his only teenage daughter.

Reinventing the meaning of „family“ is at the heart of the film, but Alexey Kravchenko, who plays Fyodor Mukhin, is willing to have a crack at fatherhood. She’s not. What ensues is more a revolution than a relationship.

Mukha is Vera Mukhina played by Alexandra Tuftey. She is a distressingly complex adolescent. Her childish freckles can’t conceal a seething, pugnacious brat who specializes in arson and trashing toothbrushes. Tuftey is in her first film role and plays out aggression beyond normal pubescent rebelliousness. Her comeuppance is calculated and terrifying. She shows compassion when she sticks up for underdogs, namely a nerdish goofball with no heart for the high school gladiatorial fights. She sulks mutely at home, but at school, she has a tomboyish survival instinct and fierce will to toughness with psychotic hatred barely under control. This is more than a chip on the shoulder and more profound than functionally insecure teen mentality.

Kravchenko plays Mukhin, Vera’s father and nemesis. He has been acting since he was 14 years old and played mainly macho/hero roles; here he is a bounder and free-wheeling TIR trucker suddenly confronted with domestic responsibility. He finds work as a sanitary engineer sucking out septic tanks, then moves to a more hygienic position as the physical education teacher at Vera’s school. The film’s humor emanates from him, and it is easy to empathize as he struggles with single parenting — or even side with him in a hilarious get-even scene with the town’s crooked mayor.

The small subplots that distract and refresh are as well played as the main story line. Kott injects a calculated dig at the Russian military via Fyodor’s compassion for an army mother whose son has not written to her. Kott has paid particular attention to authenticating a character-enhancing Russian high school, the fusty classrooms, precocious teenagers flirting with budding sexuality, locker room bullying and, especially, the sadistic fights. These are researched and implemented with documentary precision.

The cinematography in „Mukha“ is excellent, and there is a clarity and expression to this film that goes beyond revenge and family dynamics. Don’t be surprised to see „Mukha“ plucking a Golden Orange from Antalya’s fertile orchards.

An overview of Russia’s film industry

Russia’s film market will soon be the sixth biggest in Europe and is still gaining in reputation. Domestically there are only 1,600 screens for the country’s 140 million people. Barely 5 percent (5 to 10 million) people are cinemagoers, but they generate some $700 million annually in admission receipts. About 85 percent of Russian films originate in Hollywood and most Russians prefer the silver screen, not art films. An energy-fuelled economy means that, so far, financing locally made films has been relatively easy. „What is problematic is getting the money back in box office receipts,“ „Mukha“ producer Yevgeny Gindilis said.

As is universally true, medium-budget films fall between extravagant, commercial films with little original talent and the lower budget art films where there is less risk and a more creative spirit. Because of this polarization, there is little interest in mid-market films today.

After the decline of Russia’s collective model, local cinema stagnated for about a decade; films like „Mukha“ are part of an enthusiastic and creative backlash, a fact that is noted by film marketing and acquisition teams hot on the co-production trail in Europe and Asia. According to Gindilis, the local Russian genre is comedy. «These usually take the form of coarse, below-the-belt farce with weak plots. They are somewhat vulgar, but this is what turns Russian cinema audiences on at present.“

Suzanne Swan 

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