QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
An 18-year-old blind orphan (Vasilisa Denisova) lives with other blind and partially-sighted girls in an institution in the fictional Russian town of Belodonsk. She sings in a choir in the local Orthodox church. Otherwise, her life is rather uneventful. She is very beautiful, yet profoundly timid, demure and religious. She dreams of joining the local convent. One day an unknown benefactor offers to pay for an operation that will restore her sight, in exchange for the hand in marriage. She hesitantly agree.
She travels to Germany, where she undergoes a very successful surgery. This is also where she meets her future husband Nikolai (Maksim Sukhanov), an extremely powerful oligarch. He claims royal ties and calls himself a czar. He owns his personal aeroplane and lives an spectacular estate with an army of grovelling servants. The now fully-sighted pretty young woman is overwhelmed by the vulgar and grotesque wealth. This is in contrast to the religious virtues of prudence, modesty and charity to which she was accustomed. She feels trapped, not dissimilar to the birds in a cage sitting in the middle of the gigantic lounge.
The bald-headed, ogre-looking, middle-aged man is ruthless, manipulative and paranoid (as opposed to the candid, naive and gullible female). To Nikolai, love is a piece of merchandise. He confesses that he would have returned the girl to the orphanage had the operation not been successful. He believes he’s being constantly hunted down. The house is surrounded by guards with dogs, and he’s flanked by security wherever he goes. He finds solace in his wife-to-be. He breaks down and tells her of his frailties. But he also demands sex from her. The girl rejects his advances with profound horror and abjection. She proposes a “white relationship” (companionship without sex), which infuriates the lustful man.
A few days before the wedding, Nikolai allows the girl to visit her hometown. This is when she sees the orphanage where she grew up for the first time. She also comes across a very unexpected person from the past, in an event that could seriously jeopardise her future with Nikolai. The consequences could be disastrous, yet the girl seems prepared to take the gamble.
The eighth feature film by Ukrainian filmmaker Konstantin Lopushansky, who also penned the film’s script, is an allegory of Russia, a country poisoned with oligarchy and patriarchy. Perhaps unsurprisingly images of Vladimir Putin in various colours and textures are featured prominently in the middle of the film. The Russian leader isn’t too different from Nikolai in their brutality and authoritarianism. The comparison is straightforward and clear.
The ending is fairly predictable yet perfectly effective, and the movie does justify its extensive duration of 140 minutes. However, this is not a flawless endeavour. It lacks the visual excellence of other Russian and Ukrainian director such Andrey Zvyagintsev, Sergei Loznitsa and Alexander Sokurov. The biggest problem is that the images are often so dark that both the action and the settings are hardly discernible. Even on the silver screen. Given the film title, this may have been intentional, but does still impair the viewing experience.
Through Black Glass is Showing in Competition at the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.