4 (FOUR) directed by Ilya Khrjanovsky

Film / Video Reviews
4 (FOUR) directed by Ilya Khrjanovsky
Nov 20, 2006, 17:46

4 (FOUR) directed by Ilya Khrjanovsky; Leisure Time Features, 2006

Something disastrously dangerous is going on in Russia, a post-Glasnost, post-USSR, mythical variety of collapse. The recent film-festival favorite 4, embraces that breakdown. Imagine the Brothers Grimm, each brother's mutated flesh dripping from extended exposure to Chernobyl. Mix in some socio-economic Soviet bureaucracy, and stoic, Slavic isolation.  Put that in a mortar, grind with pestle, add healthy amounts of genetically altered human semen, and you begin to get the unsettling feeling that is 4.

The visual sledgehammer and enigmatic symbolism of 4 is heavy: four dogs in the streets frightened away by evil machinery, four strangers in a bar telling lies, cloned twins creating quintuplets, doll faces made from chewed up bread, grotesque babushkas writhing in an orgy of alcohol.  The payoff is non-committal, the understanding is dim, but the experience is an insanely enthralling journey.

Eastern European films can often be frustrating for American audience attention spans. They are usually in no hurry to deliver a visceral payoff. I actually found 4 to be fairly quick paced for Soviet cinema, yet still found many around me squirming in discomfort and expectation. The beginning captivates you, and promises to let you in to the inner workings of contemporary life in Russia. But no! The narrative splinters, a dream on a train by a prostitute takes the film on a curious tangent around midway point and becomes a free form orgy of Dark Age sensibilities and Bacchanal excess.

Intoxication staggers forward as a primary theme, depicted savagely, and spot-on. So vivid are scenes showing days fueled by spirits, so nightmarish are the binging, I felt hung over by the end credits crawl. Three separate cinematographers worked on the film, and near the end the handheld camera with an incredibly shallow depth-of-field accentuates the hellish drunkenness.

We are trapped in a terrifying village of the damned, radioactive retardation, crude home made vodka, depression, suicide, the sexual promiscuity of toothless hags. This is the stuff of fairy tales!

There was no satisfying resolution at the end of 4, no reassurance that the horrifying images and crises we were subjected to had any Prince Charming riding in to be saved by. 4 reminded me a lot of buffets at a Polish restaurant. The beginning of the spread is inviting: kielbasa; borscht; boiled potatoes, and then as you move on, more exotic foods show themselves: kidneys; headcheese, and by the end, you're mouth agape, at the duck blood soup, snouts, and eyes staring back at you in lifeless horror.

-David Roth

Note: at the time 4 is only available in the UK on region 2 DVD

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