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Arts + Features
Spb.Peterburg Times / Sergey Chernov
While the Russian film industry has frequently made news recently with such blockbusters as “Company 9” in an attempt to compete with Hollywood, something refreshing has appeared from the radical, no-budget side of film-making in the form of “Dust” (Pyl), made by the Svoi 2000 collective for the trifling sum of just $3,000.
All the parts are played by non-actors with the remarkable exception of Pyotr Mamonov, a rock musician (formerly of the perestroika-era band Zvuki Mu) who became a theater actor and director who puts on his own productions.
In the film, Lyosha (Alexei Podolsky), an overweight 24-year-old who leads a boring life in a miserable Soviet apartment under the eye of his babushka, chases the image of his “real,” perfect body, a glimpse of which he saw during a mysterious FSB medical experiment. In the course of the film he passes through bleak landscapes and empty alleys of the contemporary Moscow meeting all kinds of people.
Written by Marina Potapova, “Dust” was directed by Sergei Loban and shot with a digital camera by Dmitry Model.
According to Potapova, the film’s story originated with the lead performer, Podolsky, who was in a punk band in the 1990s that performed funny songs about abortions, and is in real life a gastroenterologist.
Podolsky first appeared as an actor in a hilarious video that Loban directed for the Moscow band Korabl in 2002.
“He attracted us with his figure and his presence, with his whole appearance,” wrote Potapova.
“He’s a full-fledged character. You don’t need to add much to him.”
Despite using mostly untrained actors, there are few of the false notes in “Dust” that can be seen in other low-budget Russian films.
“We did very many takes, an unthinkable number of takes,” wrote Loban. “Then when editing the film, we put sound from the good takes on the takes that looked good.”
He said that working on a budget close to zero was not a conceptual move.
“It just was the only way to do it. We calculated that we had enough possibilities to do a full-length film. We are not that poor; we had a camera, a computer for cutting and had stashed $3,000 in a pot. It’s O.K.”
In the course of the film two gangsters in different stolen cars ask the hero about how to drive to Gnezdikovsky Pereulok, which most critics saw as a nod to Goskino (the State Film Department), which is located there, but Loban claims it was unintentional.
“The Goskino hint was an accident. With the address ‘Gnezdikovsky Pereulok’ I meant something different, I simply got mixed up,” he wrote.
“There is nothing serious about this Goskino hint,” added Potapova.
“Sure, one can suggest that gangsters go to Goskino to get some of the state budget, but it’s unnecessary.”
When asked about contemporary Russian cinema, Loban was ironic.
“I like everything about contemporary Russian cinema, because everything is disgusting,” he wrote. “It should stay like this. It will be worse when there are some good films, because then it won’t be clear what to do. The last film that I really liked was [the late director Nikita Tyagunov’s 1991] ‘Noga’ [Leg].”
Potapova wrote she is not interested in what’s happening in the Russian film industry.
“I don’t care about the contemporary Russian cinema at all. I virtually don’t watch it and can’t make judgements. The very best what I managed to see was a St. Petersburg independent film called ‘Yatinsotests’.”
Loban wrote that while making “Dust,” he was influenced by hyperrealism, citing Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s “Rosetta,” Xavier Beauvois’s “Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die,” Jacques Audiard’s “A Self-Made Hero” and Erick Zonca’s “The Dreamlife of Angels” — as well as Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-Head.”
He also cited Mika Kaurismaki’s “Zombie and the Ghost Train” as his favorite film.
Potapova shares Loban’s love of the Dardennes’s “Rosetta,” but also cites Todd Solondz’s “Palindromes” and “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant,” Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo ‘66,” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi.” She also likes the work of directors Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.
Although the two describe themselves as anarchists, Loban and Potapova claim they are not involved in direct political activism.
“It is the cameraman who is involved in video activism, taking part in different anarchist initiatives. Loban and I are somewhat far from it,” said Potapova.
“But politics is everywhere, you can’t divide politics from life. Whatever we do it has something to do with politics. To live means to be involved in political activism.”
Ironically, the FSB characters in the film are played by left-wing political activists Pavel Bylevsky and Dmitry Pimenov, who both have had problems with the modern-day successor to the KGB. In the late 1990s Pimenov hid in Prague fearing arrest after being suspected of a terrorism offence.
“These people know how the FSB men behave, they have come across them and can play it well,” wrote Lobanova.“Pimenov likes to act like this and frequently plays an FSB man when visiting someone or just walking around. Both are also great people, it would be a shame not to film them.”
As well as the FSB, the Soviet intelligentsia — the so-called “men of the 1960s” — are satirized in “Dust.”
“In 2000 we had to deal with the special services and human rights activists, when the anarchists that we knew were under investigation accused of creating the terrorist organization NRA [New Revolutionary Alternative] and everybody who knew them even slightly, were interrogated. We spoke to human rights activists as well, contemplating various ways of acheiving political asylum.
“All these men of the 1960s, they are still alive, but not only that, contemporary politics and culture are being built upon on those ‘60s concepts and illusions. The idea [in the film] was to show ... how people manage to live every day in their own world, in their own concepts, in their own paradigms. But chaos reigns everywhere, doesn’t it? All people move chaotically, and contacts between them are virtually impossible. They only happen on a very conditional level.”
“Dust” drew comparisons to the perestroika-era film “ASSA,” but Loban and Potapova disagree, although Loban acknowledged that the “ASSA” message — “one can’t live like this anymore” — can be applied to “Dust.”
“One can’t live like this anymore — absolutely true,” he wrote.
“But not in the sense of the organization of society (as in “ASSA”). In our case it deals with personal, existential experience.”
Like “ASSA,” “Dust” closes with the Kino song “Peremen!” (Changes!). But whereas in “ASSA” the film showed the band performing the song with fans in the audience raising lighters, “Dust” has a man (Alexei Znamensky) interpreting into gestures.
“The song ‘Peremen!’ is performed in the language of gestures. This is not to confused with sign-language. There is such a genre: ‘gesture singing’,” wrote Loban.
“Gesture singing is common among the hearing-impaired.”
Znamensky won a song contest in 2003 where he ‘gestured’ a song by Italian pop singer Adriano Celentano.
“The language of gestures is like an internal language, like the language of the body, which the hero desires [in the film],” wrote Potapova.
“It’s a purely physiological rush for changes, for the better. Words lie. Thoughts lie. But when you feel pain — you feel pain, exactly. When you are taken by anxiety and fear, they are real processes. Love, fear. And changes are an absolutely real thing. The hero, who is unable to comprehend what’s happening, ‘sings’ in a language of gesture and action throughout the film.”
“‘Cigarettes are in hands, tea is on the table, that’s how the circle closes. And there is nothing else — everything is within us’,” wrote Potapova, quoting lyrics by Viktor Tsoi, Kino’s late singer and songwriter.
“What demands changes are ‘eyes,’ ‘hearts’ and ‘pulsating veins.’ It sounds a bit pompous, of course.”
“Dust” (Pyl) is on show at the Modern Art Center (formerly Priboi Cinema) through the end of November. The center is located at 93 Sredny Prospekt (Vasilyevsky Ostrov). M: Vasileostrovskaya/Primorskaya. Tel. 322-4223. www.dust.kinoteatrdoc.ru