Category Archives: documentary

[s] Mommies / Mamochki (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2001)

Mamochki is a short documentary by Aleksandr Rastorguev and Susanna Barandzhiyeva showing that life exist in the weirdest places. The director takes a look at a family of Vanya and Lisa, both extremely poor, both having had troubles with the law, as well as with alcohol addiction. Now they are preparing to bring a new life into this world, and are trying to mend fences on this account. In particular, Vanya tries to make peace with his mother, but she doesn’t even want to know him, for she lost faith in his ability to change, and also suspects him of stealing from her.

This seems to be the director’s disposition: he like to search for true love and emotion in places that would be deemed filthy and hopeless by anybody else. Rastorguev finds (and manages to show) truly humane features in people who would be otherwise dismissed as not being very different from meaningless animals. His masterful direction and editing make it clear: these are people too, and though they may not be as productive as most of the others, they are still capable of caring and loving. I think, the hidden message of the film – ‘please, have compassion’.

Obviously, Rastorguev was very empathetic person, which quality probably made his life not easy at all, but at the same time allowed him to create truly heartfelt movies, genuinely passionate and deep. This film here is one such work.

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The Event / Sobytie (Sergey Loznitsa, 2015)

Sobytie by Sergey Loznitsa is a documentary about the events of August of 1991, when the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) attempted a coup, as they developed in Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad). The film consists entirely of the newsreel footage filmed during the events, and couple of decades later digitized and edited by Loznitsa in a way to fconsecutive narrative line.

This is a rather amazing film that can also seem pretty boring. On the one hand, it shows the events as they evolved, and does so in a very precise, very orderly fashion, thus summing up to being an important document of the epoch. Also, the work is executed on a high level of technical implementation; it is amazingly well-edited, etc. etc. On the other: watching the development of the revolution where there’s no open conflict whatsoever, that consist almost entirely of crowds of people moving here and there or just standing in one place and murmuring, – is not exactly riveting. In the first half an hour it was relatively interesting; I couldn’t help but think about the fate of those idealisticly disposed people, in particular, where are those of them who’s still alive in today’s Russia choked by Putin’s dictatorship; but then it got sort of monotonous, at that I knew there won’t be any catharsis, so… The fascination slowly died out.

At any rate, though, this is an outstanding work of cinema, and would be definitely perceived by the foreign audience in a very different way. And, like I said, it gives an accurate depiction of the events in Russian history that are kind of important, so the film may be of great interest to anybody curious about that.

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[s] Find My Phone (Anthony van der Meer, 2016)

Find My Phone is a documentary short in the form of an investigation: after the director lost an iphone that was dear to his heart (and pocket), he decided to try and figure out who are the people stealing phones, and how does it usually go. He bought a cheap android phone and equipped it with special software that would allow him to track phone’s movements, read all the messages etc., and also make photos and videos.

The investigation per se didn’t really work – all the director got was a glimpse into a personal story of just one man. However, it turned out pretty interesting albeit not exactly complete – but that’s exactly what makes it appealing, for life in and of itself has no definitive narrative points, which effectively made this story, as incomplete and unsatisfying as it is, life’s direct, almost pure, reflection.

In terms of technical execution, it’s interesting, although the director clearly lacks experience in the field – his work feels fresh, but at the same time somewhat immature. That, of course, is an amendable drawback, if you can even call it that. All in all, the film is not without merit, and the director is showing a lot of promise.

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[s] Ballot Boxes / Urny (Zosya Rodkevich, 2018)

Urny by Zosya Rodkevich is a documentary short about certain aspects of the presidential election process in Russia in 2018. The gaze of the author is directed on the election committees members visiting the elderly in their homes so that they could vote, as well as on the ballot boxes and their handling on the election stations.

This film does not try to uncover the irregularities of the election process, nor does it support any of the political agendas. Rather, like any good documentary should, it depicts the life and its processes as they are, uninfluenced by the interference of the filmmaker – at least, as much as it is even possible. The execution is truly subtle and excels in wonderful sense of rhythm and harmony. Although the subject is not the most interesting one in the world, the way it is presented make it quite curious and sometimes even fascinating.

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[s] All the Roads Lead to Efrin / Vse dorogy vedut v Afrin (Arina Adju, 2017)

Vse dorogy vedut v Afrin is a documentary short by a film school student Arina Adju. Arina is Russian on her mother’s side, and Kurd on her father’s. As it happens, her father left their family quite a long time ago, moved to Syria and started a new one. Arina takes up a journey to visit him in the midst of the civil war, illegally crossing the turkish border and spending some time with her half-siblings in the city of Efrin.

It would seem that with such a compelling story that joins a personal drama (Arina’s family issues) with extremely complicated and dangerous external circumstances (Syrian war state), it’s not very hard to create a film, a report that is deep and fascinating at the same time. Yet, Arina somehow failed to do so. Her work is not only boring as hell (with many instances of unreasonably long shots where nothing of relevance happens for minutes in a row), it also demonstrates the lack of certain qualities she’d need as a director, such as the ability to arrange a frame (this becomes painfully obvious from the very first minutes of the movie, when she films upper parts of people’s heads and tree-tops in passing).

It hurts me to say, but this is not a good film at all. Judging from this one example, I have great doubts that Arina can become a decent filmmaker.

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The Age of Disaccord / Vozrast nesoglasiya (m/s, 2018)

Vozrast nesoglasiya is a 5-part documentary miniseries about certain aspects of the Russian political scene on the eve of the 2018 presidential elections. In particular, the director focuses on the movement of Alexey Navalny, showing both him in contact with the constituency and the employees of his campaign of different levels; and on the techniques, often illegal and always unethical, the Putin’s political system uses to keep their opponents from winning.

There are no revelations here about the level of corruptness of the political power in Russia; rather, it is about the people in the resistance movement and their respective paths that led them there. Of course, their portraits are shown within the framework of the actual situation, and as far as I can tell, the actualities of life in the country (mostly the director looks at the provincial cities) are presented correctly. Many of them are somewhat funny (like the journey of the “Putin’s squads” to Moscow in the last episode), but for the most part it’s all pretty sad, for the protesters are nice and interesting people, and there is no hope for them whatsoever.

A person living in the expanse of russian culture and language probably won’t find anything new here; however, a foreigner may be wise to advert to this film to learn what it is like to live in present-day Russian Federation.

With passing time, I believe, this film would become an important document of the era – one of many, sure, but still a very significant one. What I would like to see, though, is some sort of follow-up movie about all the personalities mentioned in it after a few years from now – what would happen with them, how would their thinking change, how different would become their lives. I hope, Andrey Loshak would do something like that, that would’ve been really great.

But even in and of itself the series is a very good work – decently formatted and executed in a highly professional manner.

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Russia on Spilled Blood / Rossiya na krovi (m/s, 2016)

Rossiya na krovi (the title comes from the name of a cathedral in Saint-Petersburg – Spas-na-krovi aka the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) is a documentary webseries focused on the history of Russia, particularly on the most bloody and slaughterous events and tendencies, between 1881, when emperor Alexander II was assassinated, and 1953, when approximately 1,000 people were crushed in the crowd mourning the death of Stalin. The series consists of 20 episodes, attaching most of the attention to the soviet part of the period (famines, mass murders, civil war, people’s uprisings, concentration camps, World War II, etc.), but also touching upon the 1905 revolution and the World Was I events. Each episode is only 6 to 8 minutes long, bringing total duration of the miniseries to less than 2 and a half hours.

As far as I can tell, the depiction of the events presented in the series is quite accurate. Naturally enough, if you know the history of Russia relatively well, you won’t find out anything new here, but for those who know nothing but would like to, this would be a good option.

There are, however, certain things that I didn’t quite like, such as the use of shots from various feature films along with those from nonfiction chronicle, which on the one hand makes the narrative more complete, but on the other – less credible (that is, if you can make out the fiction parts, because for the most part they are not marked at all). The overall style is a bit too flashy and loud to my taste, but that’s a matter of personal preference, of course. I noticed a couple of omissions and/or mistakes, but none of them were critical, so – not a big deal.

The artwork is pretty good, although if binge-watch, it’s easy to notice that some of the shots were used much more than once in similar contexts. The voiceover is good – easy to understand, devoid of any unpleasant features.

All in all, this is a good work, even though not exactly flawless. What’s important, it gives a viewer a consistent idea of the course of the russian history in its most critical period, and tries to remain objective through-out the story. This could be a good educational experience for many people, that much I’m certain about.

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[s] Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum) (Stephen & Timothy Quay , 2011)

Through the Weeping Glass is a short documentary by brothers Quay about the showpieces of the Mütter Museum, which are the relics of medical research of the past – human skeletons, skuls, medical instruments and educational materials.

This is, perhaps, the part of the brothers’ cinematic work I love the most. Here you will see the exhibit items of aforementioned kinds shown with care and dedication intrinsic for the Quays and accompanied by pieces narrative, sometimes explaining how an instrument work, sometimes submerging into the histories of people long gone.

The film is pierced with an acute feeling of ephemeralness and vanity of life that is best summarized by something the narrator says at some point: “No child ever imagines that his skeleton would one day become a part of the museum exhibit” (loose quote). I suppose, that feeling is what makes this work attractive so, for it makes the virtual excursion not just a viewing, but a kind of emotional journey.

The execution is most superb, as can be expected from the duo – the brothers usually approach this kind of material with utmost respect and care.

All in all, this film seems like a significant and important work to me, and because of this I recommend it to everybody, though I realize not every one would be inspired with things it contains.

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[s] Mechanics of the Brain / Mekhanika golovnogo mozga (Vsevolod Pudovkin, 1926)

Mekhanika golovnogo mozga is a soviet educational video on how the nervous system in mammals work. This is, by far, one of the earliest videos of this kind ever. In this film Vsevolod Pudovkin, one of the most renown soviet directors of the early stage, takes a look at the basic principles of the nervous system workings and provides some vivid illustrations of the tests conducted by the scientists on frogs, dogs, and apes, including even humans.

The video is pretty old, so there are only certain fragments of it that has survived to our days. However, put together they present a rather consistent journey into the mechanics of the nervous system, although, contrary to the title, not a lot of attention is given to the cerebrum. The director does not go very deep, though, because the state of that particular field of science was not very developed back then; mostly he focuses on conditioned and unconditioned reflexes.

Some of the experiments shown in the film are quite disturbing – by today’s standards anyway. Even though I realize that doing those kind of things was crucial for the evolution of the knowledge, and, besides, it was nothing all that terrible, it still is quite unpleasant to watch a dog with its salivary gland reworked to go outside, or, better yet, the same thing done to actual people (who, by the way, don’t look like they had any choice in the matter).

Certainly, modern videos on the subject are more developed and contain more knowledge, not to mention better quality of the execution and empathy to the subject. But this one is interesting at least from the point of view of the history of science.

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[s] The Great Ecstacy of Woodcarver Steiner / Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (Werner Herzog, 1974)

Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner is a journalistic-story type documentary about a ski jumping champion of 1974 Walter Steiner. It is mostly focused on his participation in one of the championships, where he excelled among all the competitors.

This film is only interesting as a peek at a person’s life; at that the woodcarving part of it is only mentioned in passing, with the main focus being laid on the sporting accomplishments. Also, the slow motion is used by Herzog quite abunduntly, which, I suppose, was a sort of novelty for the genre at the time (or not, I don’t really know, nor do I care).  Other than that it’s merely okay. You can watch it or you can skip it, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

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[s] Inventorium of Traces / Inventorium śladów (Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay, 2009)

In the Renaissance castle of Jan Potocki in Lancut, the modern traces of a past glory persevere and become visible again at the tones of Krzysztof Penderecki’s music and Brothers Quay’s imaginary animation.

Basically, what it is a sequence of shots, most of them without animation, showing the sights of Jan Potocki’s castle with and without people, during the day and during the night-time, with context of past significance vs. current nearly oblivion being created mostly through music. To tell the truth, it’s pretty boring. Very easy to lose track of what’s going on – mainly because nothing is going on. All in all it leaves a sensation of emptiness afterwards, which makes me doubt its necessity in the first place. Be that as it may, it didn’t make me care for Potocki, or whatever he left behid. Perhaps, my cultural background is too just slim to fully appreciate this barely movable movie.

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Ivan Bunin’s Light Breath / Legkoe dykhanie Ivana Bunina (Nikita Mikhalkov, 2014)

Legkoe dykhanie Ivana Bunina is a sort of documentary, a companion film to Mikhalkov’s 2014 movie Solnechnyy udar (Sunstroke). Contrary to the title, it has nothing to do with Bunin’s short story titled Legkoe dykhanie (Light Breath), and is based on the writer’s diaries that were published under the title of Cursed Days. In this film Mikhalkov takes a look at Bunin’s perspective on the events between 1917, when the russian revolution started, and 1920, when he left the country for good. Futher on, Mikhalkov draws parallels between those events and current political state of Russia, and reflects on what it is that won’t allow the russian people to achieve greatness.

Truth be told, there’s very little of Bunin in this film, and too much of Mikhalkov. Basically, the director just uses the famed writer’s name to shove the figments of his thinking process down the audience’s collective throat, and that’s it.

Mikhalkov’s reflections are rather poor: while he manages to note certain sore spots of the russian society, he also demonstrates astonishing inability to see cause-effect relations. His analogies (like the comparison of the political scene in 1910s and 2010s) are contrived and groundless. Suffice it to say that he makes no distinction between various opponents to Putin’s regime by calling them all ‘liberals’. In the end he comes to the conclusion that Russia has enemies everywhere, and that they would use every opportunity to harm the russian people in order to lay hands on the country’s precious resources and get rid of a mighty competitor.

Bullshit propaganda aside, the film under scrutiny is a definite failure whether if it was meant to be about Bunin (it made me want to not read his works), or if the main purpose was to give the analysis and justification of the so called russian way – arguments presented by Mikhalkov may only seem convincing to people as delusional as the director himself (although, admittedly, there’s a lot of them nowadays).

All in all, this is a piece of crap not worth wasting time on.

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Dream in the Red Tower / Son v krasnom tereme (Andrei Abols and Kirill Kotelnikov, 1989)

Son v krasnom tereme is a documentary about rock music, specifically – about russian rock, even more specifically – about the Sverdlovsk offshoot of the genre. Sverdlovsk (present-day Ekaterinburg, aka Yoburg) is the city in former Soviet Union, and now Russia, that has for a long time been a cultural center, the largest after Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. In the 1970s-1980s a number of prominent music bands emerged there, including Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi. The film tells about those and others (most of which are now completely forgotten) by showing pieces of interviews with various figures of the music industry – musicians themselves, journalists, producers etc. – interlacing them with video recordings of live performances and even some semblance of video clips.

The authors designate the boundaries of the work from the beginning acknowledging that the subject is way to complex and abundant to be adequately described in a single film. And so they limit themselves to a particular region and a particular period, and try to illustrate the different sides of the subject. And I believe that they actually succeeded with this work, because in the end a certain idea of the era and of  the people who lived and worked in that era appears before the eyes of the viewer, who also gets to submerge into the long-gone environment and listen to the actual musical pieces of the genre that would go back to that particular state. It is as much an anthropological work as it is musical one.

Some of the ideas expressed by the people filmed seem rather odd by now, but others are pretty smart even by the changed standards – in that respect I should definitely distinguish Ilya Kormiltsev, the author of majority of songs of Nautilus. Particularly interesting was the story about the Butusov’s song I want to be with you – I’m not sure how realistic it is, but at least it’s impressive and powerful.

All in all, even though it’s not the most entertaining film in the world, it was educational and rather insightful.

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Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010)

Catfish is a documentary that started as a story about little girl named Abby who draws really well from photographs. She once drew a picture from Yaniv Schulman’s photo published in the magazine, sent it to him, and that’s how they got acquainted. As things went on, Yaniv got involved with Abby’s mother Angela, as well as her older half-sister Megan, who was a dancer and a musician, and with whom Yaniv managed to fall in love without even meeting her once. Later he noticed that Meg’s songs are actually somebody else’s covers rather than the originals she claimed them to be; he started looking into that, and the story of misguiding self-representation unfolded before him, and before the audience of the film, in all its beauty.

I can’t help but compare this movie with a later documentary I watched recently called Tickle. Both of them have a mystery in the core, and both are constructed as an investigation, but Catfish deals with much lesser stakes, and that creates most of the difference. In Tickle there were human lives actually ruined; here all we have is relatively harmless deceit with no damage, be that physical, financial, or psychological, actually done to anyone. Correspondingly, I find Catfish lacking contrast – not that it’s a bad thing: the reality has a million manifestations, so why not this kind also; it’s just, I personally crave for deeper tragedies, more intense action that is provided here.

As for the execution, it’s okay. I didn’t really like all the computer-like special effects, probably because they are of low graphic quality, and it just looks lame; but also the style in general seemed to me a little excessive, with all the inter-titles and reading the correspondence aloud. Be that as it may, the film is quite watchable, and interesting to follow, too, even though emotionally manipulative at times.

As far as I understand, the Schulman brothers and Henry Joost made a TV show out of this movie, and it keeps running to this day, having survived for 7 seasons. I think it’s remarkable: the guys managed to find a source of living in something seemingly so insignificant – I, for one, would’ve never thought to work in that direction. But I don’t think their show is all that interesting. Basing on the wiki description, it’s more or less the same thing as the movie, only with different characters.

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[s] The Phantom Museum: Random Forays Into the Vaults of Sir Henry Wellcome’s Medical Collection (Quay Br., 2003)

The Phantom Museum is a documentary short by the Quay brothers in which they show some of the exhibit items of the Henry Wellcome’s Medical Collection. The showpieces are presented in a curious way, with use of animation and special effects aimed at emphasizing and/or uncovering their purpose. Depicted items include mostly anatomical dolls and medical instruments of old.

This may sound rather dull, but it was actually quite interesting. There is no speech in this video, and no inscriptions as well; everything that needs to be explained becomes clear through the visual means exclusively, and the work all in all is extremely delicate and subtle. I can honestly say that this was as much education as it was enjoyable.

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Making a Murderer (m/s, 2015)

Making a Murderer is a documentary series about Steve Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were accused of the murder of one Teresa Halbach. According to the prosecution, Teresa was unlawfully detained, tortured, raped and murdered by Steve Avery, who just recently was released from prison, where he spent 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. Later another suspect gets added to the investigation – a 16-years old nephew of Steve named Brendan. Over the course of 10 hours, every detail of this case, as well as testimonies of people involved and the progress of proceedings, are scrutinized. Notwithstanding the fact that both defendants were consequently convicted, and every appeal they made was rejected, the authors of the film obviously hold the side of the Avery family. And it appears that they have quite a lot of compelling arguments in support of their vision. The case indeed is full of holes and stretches; some intriguing questions remained unanswered, and basically ignored, by the justice system, which seems to be more willing to protect itself than the public.

In regards to the quality of this documentary, it’s far from flawless. There are 2 things that I really disliked about this show – apart from it being extremely tedious, of course, because this quality is inspired by the feasibility of the story, which is based on life, and real-life legal proceedings are excruciatingly boring.

So, the first thing: there’s too much hollowness – all those monotonous views and such, coupled with constant repetitions of stuff that bears no informational, nor emotional, nor narrative value at all. And the second thing: constant emotional manipulations. Whose side the authors are on becomes clear very soon in the story, but they just keep pushing that emotional crap in every freaking episode, as they weren’t clear enough in the beginning. It’s not only unpleasant, it’s also takes too much time. I bet, if you cut out the unnecessary stuff, the show would shrink by couple of hours. And besides, the most interesting content has nothing to do with the family’s emotional turmoil and stuff – it’s the actual video documents, like the interrogation of Brendan, for example; to be fair, there’s plenty of that here as well.

Now, after watching the show you would probably form an opinion as to what really happened there. I have too, and here’s my concept, which is purely speculative, I should add. Better skip it if you haven’t watched yet. Teresa was killed and, probably, raped right after she visited Avery plot. It was done either by her brother (who was way too eager to send Steve behind bars) or by somebody local: maybe Steven, which is unlikely, or somebody else (two guys, who alibied each other, kind of raise suspicion). Her body was ditched at the scene of actual crime, and her car was left somewhere nearby. On the 3rd day of the search the car was found by police officer Colborn, who inquired about it with the police line operator, but then contacted another police officer Lenk, and together they colluded to pin the crime of Avery, who was suing the police at the time (and Colborn probably also as some sort of atonement for coming forward with the 1995 phone call). They put the body in the car and drove it to the Avery’s plot, where they put the car as if in an attempt to disguise it, and burned the body. Later Lenk planted evidence in Steve’s trailer and garage, and the prosecutor came up with the whole rape & torture fable, which Brendan later ‘confirmed’ in his ‘confession’. Later on additional actions were taken to cover up this conspiracy, mostly during the trial.

The big question is: is it worth watching? I think, it is. First of all, it would show you how the legal system in the US actually works, because all the legal dramas on TV kind of contort the picture. And second: underneath it all, it’s an interesting story. A guy who was wrongfully convicted, tried to slap the system back, and got buried by it in response. There is a lot of ambiguity about it, but that’s just life. All in all, even with all the imperfections, this here is a valuable thing.

P.S.: The moral of this fable is really simple: don’t be stupid. It can really hurt you in the long run.

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Tickled (David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 2016)

Tickled is a documentary film about a journalistic investigation of a funny phenomenon called ‘competitive tickling competition’. David Farrier stumbles upon several video clips by pure accident, which wake his curiosity, but he only becomes interested when the initial research provokes a rather intense reaction. He decides to follow the thread, and does so with the help from Dylan Reeve, and by persistently trying to achieve clarity they uncover a deep and troubling story.

This documentary proved to be surprisingly interesting. What seemed at first like a harmless albeit bizarre notion transformed into something really strange and disturbing; the fact that it is also extremely plausible doesn’t help at all. On the one hand, I enjoyed the film tremendously, because it is constructed with great skill and profound understanding of dramaturgy (and also has extremely fine picture); but on the other – it kinda made me think about how odd the world is out there, how complex it is, and how disquieting and even ominous some of its parts can be. The film digs really deep, and at the end of it you would get a perfectly clear idea of what it is about, and that idea is weird and comprehensible at the same time.

I would recommend it to those people who are not afraid of the seamy side of life. Those who prefer to believe that the world is harmonious and balanced should probably avoid it.

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[s] Quay (Christopher Nolan, 2015)

Quay is a documentary short that provides a glance into the inner workings of the Quay brothers workshop. The brothers talk about their puppets and about how they make their films. It is indeed short, so there aren’t any groundbreaking revelations there, but it does tell about a couple of interesting techniques, even if only in general. The execution is rather good – the film looks pretty and interesting, but the appearance does not steal any thunder from the subject matter. It has also made me want to re-watch the works of the Quays, so I suppose the purpose of this short is fulfilled at least for one case.

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[s] Land Without Bread / Las Hurdes (Luis Buñuel, 1933)

Las Hurdes is a documentary short by Luis Buñuel about an isolated region in Spain, which was connected to the ‘big land’ only recently (circa 1932), when a road was constructed. It consists of 52 villages, all of which are extremely poor – to the extent, in fact, that their inhabitants consider bread a delicacy, never mind meat. It is overflown with diseases; a child born there has a pretty low chance of living past several months, and if survived, he or she is destined to the life of misery and constant struggle for existence.

After this film Las Hurdes all in all seem like a terrible place. According to wiki, there is a dark legend about this region that existed since the middle ages, which Bunuel continues. It appears that some of the scenes were staged by the director in order to create a gloomier picture (successfully), and some points were a bit exaggerated for the same purpose. But it appears that the dark legend does have objective roots, as the reputation of the region persisted until the beginning of XXI century, during which time the population was steadily decreasing, while living conditions remained on a generally low level notwithstanding all the efforts aimed at improving the situation. “Nowadays Las Hurdes is a good holiday destination for city-dwellers because of its scant population, its pristine wilderness and its landscapes. Thanks largely to tourism, present-day standards of living have risen to the average Spanish levels”.

The film, therefore, arouses mixed feelings: on the one hand it’s pretty well done, and with good intentions, too; on the other – it is manipulative (even if only a little), and it didn’t influence the reality very much (if at all), and chances are – exactly because of that impurity of means. But it did make me inquire more about the subject, – i.e. it made me interested, and this is probably a good thing.

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Adam Ruins Everything (s.02, 2017)

In season 2 of Adam Ruins Everything Adam Conover keeps debunking various fallacies and delusions with same fervour and energy as always. Subjects of these season include pregnancy, weight loss, antibiotics, matching sites, personality tests, fine arts, school historic stereotypes (such as Columbus, or King Tut), education, doing taxes, why manufacturing is in China, conspiracy theories (specifically, moon landing), placebo effect, MSG, detox treatments, truth behind Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds radio play, problems of modern science, as well as such US-distinctive topics as US medical system, US student loans system, mount Rushmore, Hawaii, American lawn, design of an American suburb, poisoned candy on Halloween, 401(k), and food expiration dates. Episode #8 is dedicated to correction of mistakes made previously by Adam and other writers for the show – unwittingly, of course. Somewhere in the middle of the season Adam acquires a girlfriend, whom he met online, and the evolution of their relationship is intertwined with all the educational stuff.

There is much less of Emily, and even less than that – of her husband Murph; but they both still act as a target recipient from time to time. (The sister only appeared in the first episode for several seconds) As a rule, though, most of the stories have a one-off recipient (not to diminish the execution, – it’s quite amazing in all cases). Melinda the girlfriend serves as a partial substitution to Emily, in terms of sustenance of the narrative consistency, and it also has its own flavour; I’m not too fond of this storyline, because it seems like it was designed to last exactly until the end of the season, and I feel like it hurts the fidelity of the show; but, on the other hand, it’s very entertaining.

I didn’t like very much the most obvious novelty of the season, behind the scenes segment, that most of the episodes have, and that constitutes, basically, a brief formal interview with an expert who previously consulted Adam on one of the episode’s topics. In most cases it’s not very substantial, and at the same time it breaks the rhythm of the episode, which feels unpleasant, – it doesn’t seem to me like this effect is worth the amount of knowledge recounted during those moments.

Despite those few clouds, the sky of the show is crystal clear otherwise. The writing is incredibly smart and subtle, not to mention funny – depictions of historic figures and archetypes, for example, are totally hilarious, and that’s just the tip of  the iceberg. And, of course, the show is extremely informative – I definitely learned a couple of things I never knew before, – and it’s the most entertaining non-fiction I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot). I recommend it with confidence.

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Scary B.O.O.M. Underground / Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde (s.02, 2012)

In 2nd season of Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde Kirill Ermichev and Co continue telling about the Scary B.O.O.M rockabilly band, as well as some stuff that they think has everything to do with the rock music situation in Russia.

As it usually happens, the more you do something, the better you do it. Technical quality of the execution has improved quite obviously – the editing and the special effects became more subtle and better refined. Everything else, however, either remained on the same level or degraded. It’s still impossible to gain understanding about the music itself – it usually goes as a background to whatever is happening on the screen, and can be perceived by the viewer only as such; on rare occasions they did in fact show some performances, but there were too few of those, and none of them lasted for longer than a couple of minutes. The narrative has broadened in all the wrong directions: Ermichev found enough time to tell even about things that happen to the music performance industry during the summer, but not about what’s going on with the band. Apparently, somewhere in the gap between the seasons its lineup underwent significant changes: from the context of the story we can tell that the double-bass player left the bad due to personal reasons and general disappointment with music, but this topic is never address directly; disappearance of the drummer (who was frequently interviewed during season 1) is not even mentioned. The band leader, Ermichev, seems to be the only consistent thing about it, and he is a pretty boring guy.

Of the 15 episodes available online, only 12 were aired; the remaining 3 can be found on YouTube only. View count suggests that no one is really interested. Moreover, Ermichev himself lost any interest soon after, or even during, the filming of the 2nd season, – the band doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Contrary to Ermichev’s belief, it didn’t leave any significant imprint on the history of music.

The series claimed to cover the state of the art of rock music in Russia at the time, but failed to create a systematic picture; it also failed to provide the audience with a consistent narrative about the band’s history, development, features. It may still be useful to small bands as it tells about certain sides of a band activity that are not evident, but this usefulness is rather conditional, because these things change with time passing by, and this kind of experience tends to come naturally to musicians. All in all, this show seems to convey a viewpoint of those who never made it, those show were unable to break away from the everyday squabbles and gain a perspective. Not worth the time.

Names and figures

Scary B.O.O.M. Underground / Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde (s.01, 2011)

Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde is a documentary series about a russian psychobilly band Scary B.O.O.M., which was one of the few to gain relative popularity in Europe. The show tells about history of the bad, its everyday activities of all kinds, from designing clothing for performance, to controlling production of merchandise, to actually doing music.

I can’t believe this bullshit has been sitting on my self for 5 years; I’ve been a little intimidated because documentaries about music are usually not an easy viewing, and so I only got to it now, and what do I see? First of all, this is not a series about current rock-music scene, like it claims to be; rather, it is a chronicle of a band’s life – excruciatingly circumstantial, – until it suddenly pivots and starts telling about producing merch – again, in way too much detail; and then it pivots again, this time into the view on European music, which actually boils down to a short sequence of interviews with a leader of some band and also with some officials of a Finnish music / film festival. Obviously, the guys didn’t have an uber plan, and as a result we have this loose, incoherent narrative about so many things, it amounts to being about nothing at all.

What’s even worse is that this so-called rock band doesn’t have any temper at all, there isn’t even a hint of charisma in any of the participants, including Ermichev. They surely like to talk about themselves, – well, who doesn’t? and this whole thing would’ve probably looked very different if they’d made it, but they didn’t, and so it all seemed pretty pitiful to me. As far as I’m concerned, the band is long gone, and there’s nothing sad about it, it’s only natural, – it didn’t have a chance in the first place.

As for the music, I can honestly say that after watching this whole season, I would never, not even under a death threat, be able to distinguish songs of Scary B.O.O.M. from songs of any other band that was mentioned in the series. They all sound alike to me; probably, it’s because music plays pretty much all the time in the show, – so much in fact, it effectively becomes a part of the background, and stops to register at all. From those pieces that I can actually attribute to the band, none produces any significant impression, – I didn’t feel there was anything special about that music. I believe, the ideal result of any film about a real music band would be an overwhelming desire in the viewer to go and listen to more of that music; however, after I’ve watched this show, all I wanted to listen to was Eminem. Of all people.

Ultimately, it’s a poorly executed story about music that is not really worth it. I’m not sure, why would I watch the 2nd season of this, but I will. Stay tuned.

Names and figures

How Strange To Be Named Federico / Che strano chiamarsi Federico (Ettore Scola, 2013)

Che strano chiamarsi Federico is Ettore Scola’s tribute to his life-long friend and colleague Federico Fellini. It’s a semi-documentary, semi-dramatic memoir of their relationship, and includes some pieces of Fellini’s life that came to happen in direct connection with their friendship.

The film is poetic, ingenious and beautiful. It tells about Fellini with great respect and admiration, and at the same time not in denial of his certain character traits. Which are always forgiven, for he created so many wonderful things.

The narration is very well-balanced; the director alternates various techniques so that none of them can become a nuisance, and moves from one to another with amazing gracefulness at that. The acting – (and there was quite a lot of acting) – is in complete tune with the Scola’s design, not too bright, but perfect within the framework of the concept. All in all, an exceptionally harmonious story, honest and sincere, and light, and funny, and sad, all in one. In other words: highly recommended for all the cinema fans, as well as for everybody else.

Names and figures

Sport, Sport, Sport (Elem Klimov, 1970)

Sport, Sport, Sport is a semi-documentary by Elem Klimov dedicated to glorification of sport as a way of life, and as a profession. It is a mixture of several topics, – like potpourri, – with parts about sports history events with newsreel and testimonials from direct participants; fragmentary narrative about teenagers and other people committing to sport and talking about it; and also fictional parts – tales of the professional massage therapist uncle Volodya, who is a sort of like soviet baron Munchausen who’s really into sports.

I think, that last part is what spoils it all. Because, if you think about it, there is nothing wrong with accounts from history or filming the young generation of people captivated by what they are doing, – they may be a little boring, but they are clear in the core. Tales, on the other hand, seem so terribly fake, they started to annoy very soon, and by the middle of the film all I could think of was when will this finally be over? It’s obnoxious, and it ruins everything, like ten kilos of shit would ruin a whole barrel of jam.

In other words, this film is a radiant piece of propaganda, and even though it advocates a good thing – taking care of one’s body, that is, – lack of sincerity and unnatural, bright optimism not only spoil the movie as it is, it is also likely to have effect opposite to what was intended.

All in all, it was unpleasant, and feels like a waste of resources.

Names and figures

And Yet, I Believe… / I vsyo-taki ya veryu… (Mikhail Romm, Marlen Khutsiev, Elem Klimov, 1974)

I vsyo-taki ya veryu… is the last film by a famous soviet director Mikhail Romm, the one he didn’t get to finish by himself. It’s a documentary, specifically – canned news re-edited and reinterpreted in accordance with a certain vision. What he tried to do is to glance over the history of the XX century and come up with a conclusion – does the humanity stand a chance? You can guess what his answer to that question was by looking at the title.

Actually, the main idea was to tell the humanity something like: “We all know, you’ve done good things and bad things, and there are some of both kinds happening right now, but I know you can do better, humanity! I believe in you!” But the truth is, such appeal is bound to go without leaving a trace. I cannot imagine a single person who would become a better version of him- or herself after watching this, especially considering that there is quite a lot of bullshit in there.

The historical events are mostly presented in a biassed way, heavily influenced by communist propaganda; a lot of things are simply left out, which is sometimes benign (like not mentioning advances in medical science when describing the dawn of the century), but sometimes malicious (like not mentioning anything that happened in USSR at all, except for the fact of Lenin’s coup); later in the course of the film, its editors sank to the relatively current events in an attempt to not only prove that communism is the only rescue from the upcoming disaster, but also that soviet version of it is much better than the chinese. Of course, this film is far brighter than the usual agitprop, and I believe it was driven by a genuine desire to help all the people, but in the end, it’s all the same in nature, and you can’t trust something that is so untrue, even if it’s undoubtedly sincere.

I can still appriciate all the old reels, most of which I have never seen before, and masterful way they are all edited together, but in the context of free informational flow taking this work seriously would be ridiculous.

Names and figures

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