Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Twilight Portrait (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)
Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)
Genre: Drama
Director: Angelina Nikonova
Starring: Olga Dykhovichnaya, Sergei Borisov, Sergei Golyudov, Roman Merinov, Vsevolod Voronov
Language: Russian
Duration: 105 min.
Rating: 7.9
A searing look at contemporary Russian society through the eyes of a privileged but disillusioned social worker.
Twilight Portrait is the directorial debut of Angelina Nikonova, co-written with lead actress Olga Dykhovichnaya. It premiered at the 2011 Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival, where it won an award for cinematography, and has picked up awards at numerous festivals including the Golden Puffin at Reykjavik, Best Actor at Stockholm, and the Golden Alexander for Best Film at Thessaloniki.

It's a highly disturbing psychological study set in contemporary Russia, and centered on Marina (Dykhovichnaya, who also co-produced), a young woman who from the outside looks to have the perfect life: she's from a rich family, has a loving husband, nice apartment, and works a poorly paid job not because she has to, but because she wants to; but on the inside, this is a woman profoundly affected and discontented with the cold society of indifference in which she lives. After enduring a traumatic experience of her own, she embarks on a harrowing course of self discovery.

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Stylistically, Nikonova borrows much from the Dogme 95 school of low budget filmmaking. It's raw, handheld, and shot in natural lighting on a DSLR; an approach that is always far from visually impressive. However, in this case, the style suits the subject matter appropriately, as most of the film takes place during those murky moments of dusky darkness indicated by its title. She also borrows dramatically from that movement as well, as witnessed in an uncomfortable scene at a less-than-successful surprise birthday party that recalls what happens in Thomas Vinterberg's Festen.

It also continues an ongoing cinematic trend seen in films like Aleksey Balabanov's Cargo 200 (2007), and Sergei Loznitsa's My Joy (2010), of depicting modern Russian society in a harsh and unforgiving manner. A non-fictional dystopia ruled by hostility, greed, selfishness, and bureaucratic alienation, where the police are miles scarier than the criminals, and where no one could be bothered to lift a finger to help out a stranger, even if it's their job to do so.

Dykhovichnaya delivers a mesmerizing performance here as a depressed woman trapped in a state of perpetual twilight. She's presented as not a particularly likeable protagonist, and along the way she makes some ambiguously motivated and seemingly illogical decisions that will most certainly turn some viewers off, but the strength of Dykhovichnaya's acting makes her personal journey incredibly fascinating to watch. The reasons are never neatly laid out, and at times the explicit and unflinching images are difficult to stomach, but there is a naturally captivating sense of conviction in her demeanor and her actions, that we just can't look away.

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Adding to this is Nikonova's very effective lens, which until the film's brilliant closing shot—maybe my favorite ending shot of the year—follows Marina around invasively; it's even positioned to show her direct point-of-view in a few chilling instances, a technique which relays her physical and psychological condition in an alarmingly evocative manner.

It's a mostly bleak and heavy picture that doesn't shy from depicting controversial and provocative material and where the moments of light and hope are few and far between. But there is also a strange beauty hidden in all the darkness, the kind that makes a film stick with you and forces you to ponder for a very long time after seeing it. This is a remarkable debut that reveals a creative pairing of two talented and uncompromising cinematic voices to look out for. Apparently Nikonova and Dykhovichnaya are already working on their next collaboration, I cannot wait.
Bonjour Tristesse

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)

Twilight Portrait • портрет в сумерках (2011)


Dr Blood said...

Apart from the camera technique, I like the sound of this.

d_4 said...

This sounds like it's gonna go down real strong. I'll give it a watch at some point. When the time is right.

MRanthrope said...

Im positive I've never seen this actress before yet somehow she looks familiar

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I know, and I can't figure it out either.

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