For a person who mostly stumbles around groggily in between caffeine sessions, I’ve had a very productive week. Hell, I even saw Putin. Though perhaps the best sight wasn’t Putin: it was journalist and author Anna Arutunyan, being lifted by a huge, factory worker-type in the air, all to get a better glimpse of the aforementioned prime minister at Luzhniki stadium.
Later, Anna and I went in search of food and my husband, and had a long conversation about physics, primal energy and politics, some which we even taped. It referenced everything from frescoes in the historic Kirillovskaya church in Kiev to Vladislav Surkov. Snow flurries drifted to the ground. The air in Moscow was rapidly warming. We must have sounded like two idiots to anyone who caught even the briefest snatch of our rambling discussion.
On our way home to the baby that night, my husband and I dropped into the Gogol night club, our Kilometer Zero. Maybe. The bouncers were still polite, the crowd was still refreshingly human. Outside the dressing room, a lantern styled like an old street lamp still burned.
In the summer’s, Moscow’s swanky Stoleshnikov pereulok attracts rent-boys who discreetly advertise themselves to passing ladies and gentlemen. But when we came out of Gogol, it was cold and dark and the wind had changed directions, hinting, also discreetly, at spring.
So I finally saw this movie as part of the opening of the 2morrow festival here in Moscow. You might say that as the parents of a little boy, Alexey and I probably should not have seen something like this, particularly on the day that Lyovka turned 3 months old (3 months! Amazing! An entire season of Lyovka!). Yet I’m one of those people who believes in fighting fire with fire – namely, I try to confront my worst parenthood-related nightmares via books and movies. No point in trying to run away from stories such as the one told in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Well, inasmuch as this film actually tells a story.
I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell if this is a faithful adaptation. And I’m not sure if I want to read the book now, because there is a great hollowness at the center of the film adaptation, and it’s got nothing to do with all of that nietzschean “the abyss looking into you” crap. Quite frankly, I just wasn’t that taken with the characters. I ultimately decided that I couldn’t care less as to why Kevin, the title character, is such an utter sociopath – in most scenes, he was just too smooth and polished, I suppose, to come off as real. The soundtrack was a little too ironic – all of those cheerful oldies songs worked for about 20 minutes or so before they became redundant. The great and glorious Tilda Swinton spent entirely too much time washing red paint from various parts of her body and house – I got the visual metaphor the 100th time around, thanks, the 101th time it was shoved in my face made me wonder if director Lynne Ramsay thinks the audience is full of idiots.
By contrast, the real-life sociopath Eric Harris, as described in Dave Cullen’s “Columbine,” struck me as pretty interesting. I suppose this is an unfair comparison, considering that Cullen wrote a nonfiction account of a real-life school massacre – but there was also something gratifying about the way in which Cullen treated his subject matter. He didn’t beat the reader over the head with all of this “ooooh, let’s explore the depraved world of a sociopathic mass murderer” stuff. When you’re dealing with something as horrifying as the events that took place at Columbine High on April 20, 1999, the facts on the ground will speak for themselves.
This isn’t to say that Ramsay isn’t masterful – she is. When she pulls off a scene, she doesn’t merely pull it off – she scores a freaking home run. Who needs to show a school massacre, for example, when a single shot of a blond cheerleader type screaming for help from behind a locked door is chilling enough? When Ezra Miller verbally eviscerates his mother in the middle of a restaurant, you immediately realize what a great director had to have been involved here – to get Miller to totally hold his own in a tense scene with Tilda fucking Swinton (do I hero-worship her too much? Probably). “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is ultimately a movie that’s been overcooked, but it’s also the kind of movie that makes you want to watch more of Lynne Ramsay’s work. And that says a lot – because I’m not one of those epic film junkies who has to know what’s going on in the industry 24/7 (which, considering my present career trajectory, is a bad thing… hm…), and my days of trying to write actual film criticism are pretty much behind me.
All the way in Moscow, it was just nice to get a glimpse of the doors of an American high school, really. Those doors I am nostalgic about… the ones that the evil Kevin locks with yellow bike lockers. Is it bad that I was just looking at them and going, “I want to hear the click and hiss of those doors one more time”?
This is one of those movies that has seriously reminded me of my age. Not necessarily in a bad way.
I suppose it’s natural for Alexey to shoot a film that’s mostly about kids – now that we have our own kid. And I’m glad I’ve been involved in this project from the start. Being his wife, it was inevitable, but some people don’t realize just *to what extent* I’ve had to be involved: whether it’s giving editing suggestions at 4 a.m. when I’m pumping breast milk, or sacrificing the family budget when we suddenly need a new computer monitor.
In our household this month, we’re dealing with a little baby boy, a hysterical director trying to finish a documentary he single-handedly shot and edited, and a cranky new mother who’s just gone back to work and who’s just had to deal with her new play premiering at the Lyubimovka festival. You can imagine what it’s been like. Or don’t, actually – if you don’t want the nightmares to haunt you.
I’m proud of us for not having gone completely insane, though. The other day, with the nanny spending the night at our place, Alexey and I sat in a kitchen of a hostel on Moscow’s busy Garden Ring, listening to the legendary playwright and screenwriter Slava Durnenkov desribe the equally legendary Hagia Sophia like only Slava Durnenkov can. A part of me wanted desperately to be home with Lev, but another part recognized the fact that I needed my walkies. I wound up ejecting Dima Bogoslavsky from the bedroom so that I could pump. Bogoslavsky is probably the biggest success of this year’s Lyubimovka – his play will soon premiere at the Mayakovsky Theater. Now that Mindaugas Karabauskis is in charge of that place, living playwrights can actually, you know, have their premiere there and stuff.
Speaking of the Mayakovsky – thanks to the nanny, again, we actually went to the Mayak restaurant next door after a night of readings at the festival. I like the Mayak – I just don’t like it on the weekends. On the weekends, some of the guests try extra hard to remind everyone that they’re freewheeling artist-types, and bang on the piano extra hard as well. It was good to sort of have a social life again, though, wreathed in smoke or otherwise.
The reading of my own new play, “The lives of living people,” went fine. Not great – but fine, considering the pressure on Alexey to edit the movie and hold rehearsals, and considering the fact that I was re-writing the new draft in the heat of the summer, with an enormous belly weighing me down. The best part was realizing that the main heroine, as interpreted by glamorous Alexandra Rebenok, is kinda a bad person.
That night on the Garden Ring, Slava asked us – “Who financed the film project? Who are the other crew members?” We had to explain that there was no funding, it was just Alexey and me, and our money. We had to explain that there was no crew. I haven’t realized before how fantastical that might seem from the outside – that this movie got done, and that it looks the way it does, and that it happens to tell a pretty profound story straight from the margins of Russian society.
“Katya, Vitya, Dima” is the English title. The working title in Russian is “Дом у дороги.”
A good wife must promote her husband’s work at every opportunity – which is working against me at the moment, because anything I might say may be suspect. “Oh, of course she would say that.”
It’s a shame, because I watched the rought cut version last night, wiped away the tears, and said something like, “Well, hell, darling. It was certainly worth it to have you gone so much in the last trimester of the pregnancy.”
The movie was shot in the spring and summer of 2011, in the village of Shestakovo, Voronezh region, Russian Federation. It focuses on a married couple and their three kids. It’s a documentary whose style personally reminds me of Sofia Coppola.
I’ll write more about it when I have the chance to gather my thoughts.