Zamri, umri, voskresni! / Freeze Die Come to Life (1989)

12 03 2013

I had wanted to see this for a number years just from the strength of the title alone. It has a weird poetic tone to it, which I guess could be a good point to start talking about the film itself. It fits into that mold of beautiful but ugly movies about impoverished children. Yes, this fits very comfortably with Pixote, I Was Born But…, and yes, even Gummo. If there’s really any faults in the film, it’s that I’ve already seen this sort of thing done before, but the movie still fulfills the promise by building on a similar pathos as those films.

1

Valerka lives in a remote Siberian village with his mother. He makes money by selling teas to both the locals and Japanese prisoners of wars. Galia also sells tea, and is occasionally both the victim and the perpetrator of Valerka’s teasing. Because the rest of the children in town seem just too young or just too old for them, they begin to bond just by the fact that they have no other friends. Through their eyes we see the absurdity and sadness in the forced marches for Stalin, yeast poured into the sewers, and retrieval of a stolen pair of skates.

2

It’s important to note that Kanevsky’s film never goes the political route. Sure, we see Stalin’s perceived negative influence on an isolated community, but his film is not one of commentary, at least not an explicit commentary, but instead one of observation. These forced marches and sing-alongs are completely ridiculous, and if anything, they’re played up for laughs. The one time we see them in an extended sequence, the man enforcing the marches orders everyone to march through the feces that have brewed to the surface from Valerka pouring yest into the school’s sewer system. Such an image has that weird ugly-beauty reminiscent of the films I’ve already mentioned, but it has comedic quality as well. One can sense a growing dissatisfaction with Stalin as most of the town ignores and scoffs at these rituals, even as no one goes out of their way to make a declaration of his politics.

3

The strength in Kanevsky’s images is, in fact that no subtext is necessary. There certainly is one. This is one of the last Soviet films of note (Sharunas Bartas’ Three Days from 1991 is the latest I’ve seen) and while there isn’t a perceptive foreshadowing of the Soviet’s collapse, but instead a sense of giving up. That’s the subtext in these images, but again, I don’t think they’re necessary. The images themselves make the film vital not only because of their immediacy, but because they are beautifully composed. Sure, the camera wanders a lot, but at times, there are expressionistic flourishes throughout. The sequence where Valerka gets his skates stolen seems something from Guy Maddin’s canon, somewhat a contrast to the more free-wheeling tone that dominates the majority of the film.

4

As I hinted at the beginning of the review, there is really nothing wrong with this movie. It is sort of perfect and its finale really manages to pack a punch. So why isn’t this the best movie ever? Well, in a weird way, the film met my expectations perhaps too perfectly. It really is sort of a middle point between Gummo and a Bela Tarr film. If that sounds exciting, then you should definitely see this film. It seems to turn on a more surrealistic switch towards the final half hour. The vignettes that happen earlier seem a little bit “organic” and “real” where as the ones towards the end more closely resemble an imitation of something from a Herzog documentary. Again, there’s really not a single thing wrong about this movie, but I’m somewhat jaded from seeing  a similar thing already. It’s still a masterpiece, though. Sometimes you don’t need a film to reshape the cinematic vocabulary, you just want it to re-examine what you’ve already believed. That’s what this is for me. To make my rambling a bit more concrete, just see this movie. It’s really great.

5

 

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