QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN
This highly controversial Russia movie is the first instalment of a series of 13 films crafted from more than 700 hours of footage. The shooting involved mostly non-professional actors, including real-life prison wards and scientists. The project was originally intended as a more conventional biopic Soviet Nobel Prize winner Lev Landau, but suddenly morphed into something far more extensive and transgressive.
The storyline is rather simple. Natasha (Natasha Berezhnaya) and Olga (Olga Shkabarnya) work in the canteen of a very secretive research institute somewhere in the Soviet Union. The two women bond through the contempt that they feel towards each other. They have violent cat fights, but they can also be supportive of each other, and confide intimate secrets of their love life to each other.
Following a vodka-fuelled party, Natasha has a sexual encounter with a French visitor called Luc (Luc Bigé), who is working with the resident scientist Alexei (played by Alexei Blinov, who also happened to be the movie’s technical development lead, and sadly passed away last year shortly after the completion of the movie). But having sex with a foreigner is deemed a highly dangerous act in such an environment, and Natasha gets punished for her misdemeanour. She gets humiliated and raped by the profoundly sadistic institute’s chief Vladimir Azhippo (Azhippo).
Both the consensual and the non-consensual sex sequences are extremely graphic, borderline pornographic. At one point, Natasha is forced to insert a bottle into her vagina. These sequences are also very extensive. The fact that the actors were amateurs and used their real name helped to vouch for the authenticity of the sequences, in a strange blend of fiction and reality. Ultimately, this is a film about personal power struggle. The protagonist Natasha Berezhnaya described her experience: “In some ways, it was scary, it was oppressive. We had fear, we had love, we had relationships”. This is a wilfully voyeuristic, exploitative and provocative movie.
Lensed by renowned German DOP Jürgen Jürges, DAU. Natasha is a truly jarring viewing experience. You will feel literally trapped with the hapless, perverse and deranged characters. There are no establishing shots, no outdoors sequences, not even windows. The duration of 145 minutes helps to ensure that the unrelenting psychological and sexual violence lingers in your mind for a very long time. Not a positive image of Russia/ the Soviet Union at all. Which is what you would normally expect from a Russian film in a major European film festival anyway . I don’t recall ever seeing a rosy depiction of the largest country in the world in either Berlin or Cannes, the two festivals that I routinely attend.
DAU. Natasha is showing in Competition at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.