This is one of the strangest films I've ever seen (and if you know me, that's saying something). 4 begins with a piano-tuner, a prostitute, and a slaughterhouse worker. Strangers to each other, they meet in a Moscow bar and converse for at least twenty minutes. All three create elaborate false identities for themselves as a half-awake bartender refills their glasses. One speaks about a Soviet human cloning conspiracy and the significance of the number 4. This part of the film is formally rigid and disciplined in its editing and composition.
Afterwards, the three patrons leave the bar and go their separate ways. A good chunk of the film follows the prostitute, Marina, who travels miles and miles to a remote village where her twin sister has just died. At this point, 4 gradually starts to descend into a surreal, nearly grotesque madness, teeming with hand-held camera shots, drunken, demented old ladies and handmade dolls with faces composed of chewed bread (yes, chewed bread--you can't make this stuff up). All the while, patterns of four appear on screen: four sisters, four airplanes, four tanks, etc;
Director Ilya Khrjanovsky is a talent to watch. He's clearly (and intelligently) commenting on the cultural divide between Western and Eastern Russia, and how repetition and disclosure relate to it. 4 makes a relatively polished Russian film such as THE RETURN look like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, which is to say, it's not for everyone. Although it tested my patience at times, it's also fascinating and bewildering like a 1970s Werner Herzog film and that's a compliment... but I'll just give it 3.5 stars (out of 5)
30 October 2006
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