Monday, October 26, 2015

Under Electric Clouds (orig. Под электрическими облаками / Pod elektricheskimi oblakami) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) (28/100)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* listing* (Y. Gladilschikov) review* (J. Zabaluev) review* (N. Kornatsky) review* (A. Filippov) review* (S. Ternovskiy) review* (M. Makedonsky) review* (G. Ustiyan) review* (O. Shakina) review* (N. Golman) review*

EEFB (K. Kuzma) review (M. Timofeeva) interview w. director*

Under Electric Clouds (orig. Под электрическими облаками / Pod elektricheskimi oblakami) [2015] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (written and directed by Aleksey German, Jr [IMDb] []*[]*[]*) is a quite dense film.  It played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

It's NOT FOR EVERYBODY, but those who'll "get it" will probably enjoy it ... A LOT.   For the film is basically a surreal, near-future sci-fi-ish allegory about contemporary Russia ... approaching twenty-five years after the fall of the Communism.

Further the film itself is already an artifact: A RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN and POLISH co-production, virtually all reviewers have noted that this will probably be "the last" of this kind of artistic collaboration between the three countries "for a while."

Set in 2017, 100 years after the Russian Revolution [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]*, it's winter / it's COLD and the principal "investor" / "visionary" behind the construction of a grand-futuristic skyscraper standing by a thoroughly frozen / wind-swept beach ... has died.  Only a vague skeletal outline of the bottom portion of the quite avant-garde-ish skyscraper appears to have been completed.  Yet it does extend into the low-lying clouds onto which (the clouds) advertisements are sometimes projected (hence the film's title "Under Electric Clouds").

Well, with the principal "investor" / "visionary" behind the project DEAD, what now?  That's indeed, the story, told in seven interlocking segments, each featuring various persons effected (or NOT effected, or simply NOT concerned) by the demise of the project.

The first segment features a poor Kyrgyz laborer named Karim (played by Karim Pakachakov [IMDb] []*) who came to the frozen construction site to help build monstrosity and now stood to lose his job.  We see him spending the night covered by simply a clear plastic tarp, sleeping on the frozen beach... What's HE gonna do?  And does ANYBODY care?

The second segment features "the heirs" to the "investor" / "visionary" who died -- Danya (played by Viktor Bukanov [IMDb] []* and Sasha (played by Viktoriya Korotkova [IMDb] []*) -- who really don't seem to care much about their Father's project.  They just seem to enjoy his "oligarch worthy" wealth.  They have a R2D2 like ELECTRONIC SERVANT - who, fitted with a camera, may actually be spying on them (!) - who does the kind of work that the HUMAN BEING Karim (of the first segment) would have probably loved to have been able to do rather spending his nights sleeping on the frozen beach covered only by that clear plastic tarp...).  Sasha also seems to find it funny that "dad's architect" upon hearing of his death tried to "set himself on fire" but "the matches proved to wet ..."  However, Danya and Sasha seem genuinely surprised to find themselves arrested and interrogated (still nicely ... they still have a lot of money) by the authorities for their father's alleged embezzlement.

In subsequent segments, we do get to meet the architect Petr (played by Louis Frank [IMDb] []*) who is indeed distraught that his building will probably never be completed.  And even if those matches were "wet" that time when he tried to set himself on fire, he does eventually prove "resourceful" in ending his life in despair.

But before he does so, we're also introduced to his friend, a historian Nicolai (played by Merab Ninidze [IMDb] []*) who actually is probably the main character of the story:

Nicolai was actually "a hero" back in 1991 when as a student he stood there (with other students) along with the then "rising star" President of the then R.F.S.S.R. Boris Yeltsin [en.wikip] protecting the Russian "White House" (the Russian Federation's parliament building) when coup plotters seeking to overthrow then Soviet Premier Gorbachev [en.wikip] sent tanks that way.  (A few years later, Yeltsin sent similar tanks to shell the same Russian Parliament building when it was taken-over by another set of coup plotters, bent on over-throwing him).

Anyway, Nicolai was "a hero" back 1991 and eventually finished his PhD in history, only to reduced to being "a tour guide" at a museum threatened to be knocked down to make way for the tower complex of this story.

Interestingly enough, Nicolai's thoughts/feelings about this are quite ambivalent: (1) He resents being reduced to a tour-guide at a museum, period. (2) If the museum gets razed, he stands to lose even the "little job" that he has. (3) He's actually friends (since college days) with Petr the architect of the tower to be built, liking to talk to him "about laptops." (4) The tower would actually "make history" (even if it would cost him, a historian, his job ...).  And (5) THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF 2017 DON'T SEEM TO CARE MUCH ABOUT HISTORY ANYWAY.

We already met two of these "care free" / "frivolous" YOUNG PEOPLE (the adult children of the Oligarch commissioned the building of the tower to begin with).  But there are others including an eminently CHARMING / ever-smiling 20/30-something Greta Gerwig-looking character (played by Anna Ekaterininskaya []*) who leads a bunch of nerdy 20/30-something Russian males in  Tolkien-esque role-playing battles.  And the ever-smiling  "Greta Gerwig" character also spews all sorts of historical nonsense (that no doubt she's "learned on the internet") like (a) people under Stalin were happy, and (b) Hitler wasn't really that bad.  And this makes once serious PhD historian now soon-to-be-possibly-unemployed museum-tour-guide Nicolai cringe, but he appears powerless to do anything about it.

So the world / Russia portrayed is one where actual work, creation, history or even matter does not matter.  Instead everything is fungible, ethereal and _fantasy_ ... like electronic projections of advertisements onto clouds.

Again, this is a rather dense film is NOT necessarily for everybody.  Indeed, EVEN IN RUSSIA the film got only a 28% positive rating from readers on (basically Russia's version of  Even in Russia, there are FAR MORE POPULAR / ACCESSIBLE FILMS than this.  I recently viewed and reviewed several [1] [2] [3] [4].   Nevertheless, for those who get this film, it's certainly a thought provoking one.  Good job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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