By Ed Koch
On a Clear Day (+)
This picture was filmed in Scotland, and because of the strong accents, I often found it difficult to understand what was being said. Fortunately on those occasions, the body language of the actors enabled me to follow along and empathize with the characters.
The story is a simple one involving Frank (Peter Mullan), who was recently laid off from his shipbuilding job; his factory friends; and his wife, Joan (Brenda Blethyn), who decides to go to work and responds to an ad seeking bus drivers. The forces that affect Frank every day include flashbacks to an earlier tragedy involving a young son, and an inability to emotionally respond to his other, now adult son, Rob (Jamie Sives), who lives nearby with his wife and two adolescent boys. Robs wife commands a higher salary than Rob could get, so he stays home and takes care of their children.
Frank copes with his situation by deciding to swim the English Channel to France. How he both fails and succeeds on different levels while attempting that swim makes for a very affecting story. One scene involving invalid children using the same pool for swimming lessons brought me to tears.
When I left the theater, I was very glad that I decided to see this movie, but I was upset with the producers for not providing subtitles so desperately needed for an audience to fully appreciate the gem on the screen.
Most of the people waiting in line at the Cinema Village theater to see this Russian film, which received rave reviews, were speaking Russian. The movie is made up of three segments all taking place in Russia after, I believe, the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The first segment involves dogs that seem to be feral and modern machines that appear to be extraterrestrial.
The second section takes place in a bar around 3:00 a.m., where three strangers exchange occasionally amusing and sometimes untrue information about themselves. They are Marina (Marina Vovchenko), who is in advertising; Volodya (Sergey Shnurov), who is a high-level government bureaucrat; and Oleg (Yuri Laguta), a chemical scientist who dominates the conversation with a description of his work which, he says, involves the cloning of humans.
The location then shifts to an unidentified, nightmarish landscape that reminded me of Chernobyl or some other area cut off from normal civilization because of a continuing, dangerous catastrophe. Marina is returning to a village to attend the funeral of a friend where a group of elderly women and a young man are creating dolls for sale, the heads of which are made from a chewed bread fashioned into masks. The crones chew the bread, spit it out, and mold it like clay. The crones also expose their breasts, which at their age are not pretty sights, and a grotesque banquet scene takes place involving the consumption of a barbequed pig.
This movie is being touted as a masterpiece of cinema. In the opening line of her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis wrote, The terminally bleak meets the hypnotically beautiful in the Russian Cryptogram 4. That is true, but the film is nonsense. My eyes were riveted to the screen, but I was unable to make any sense of what was unfolding, and the meaning of it all still escapes me. I felt as though I were witnessing the day after a nuclear catastrophe where people turned as feral as the dogs in this movie. I will be long gone from the scene when and if that happens and happily so. It is not a pretty sight. Avoid this movie. (In Russian, with English subtitles).