12 April 2009


A charming film, no relation to the disappointing Gary Shteyngart novel. I suppose some would argue that it performs a whole host of stereotypes about backward Eastern Europeans, and that's it's name and geographic vagueness is an offensive mishmash of Eastern Europe a la Borat. But you know, it really didn't strike me that way. Maybe because I saw it with my parents, rather than with a group of non-Eastern European friends, so I wasn't inclined to be defensive, maybe it's because it's actually homegrown (not that one can't create offensive caricatures of one's own people), maybe because it was lovably close and affectionate and familiar in so many ways, I dunno. But it didn't bug me. 

ANYHOW, what I kind of loved about it was that the film is, in essence, an epic, which you don't see much these days, and is rarely done well. In other words, the characters lack any real psychological development - not that they're flat, it's rather that their interiority isn't really explored, it's only expressed through action. The form isn't realism - the plot is more fairy tale than documentary, and definitely requires a major suspension of disbelief. Yet it has this kind of epic quality - it's about life and death, and love and sex, and primal human needs and urges. But ultimately, it boils down to a man's quest to win a woman's love, gallant knight style. It even features the key plot point, the hero's journey to the Underworld, albeit in a modernized fashion.

And that's what's so intriguing about it, is that the quest revolves around water supply, which in some ways, is a quintessential trait of emerging modernity. So there's this lovely juxtaposition of old forms and modern contexts, or rather, proto-modern contexts, one could say. It's kind of brilliant. Bringing water, and the technology associated with it, ISN'T portrayed as the starting point of Westernization and massive change. In fact, it's organically interwoven into an existing culture and way of life - one that is perhaps primal, but isn't by extension "backwards" or "uncivilized". I'm sure one could develop a more complex and nuanced reading of the film in terms of nationalism and modernization, but that's all I've got for now.

Oh, I should also mention, like all good fairy tale love stories, there are some gorgeous romantic moments, wonderfully imagined and beautifully rendered. Very sweet, very unrealistic, but very touching.

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