A beautiful hotel lays the stage for a couple nights of memories, recriminations and recaptured romance in the absorbing Parquet. A blistering three-hander featuring extremely game performances from the three leads, Agata Kulesza, Evgenia Dodina and Andrzej Chyra, the film is a bittersweet exploration of lost youth.
Chyra plays Cockatoo, a middle-aged man who moves across the dance floor with purpose, downing countless free glasses of champagne. He is at the 25th anniversary event of his tango club, looking for the two women with which he shared both the dancefloor and the bedroom. He meets Valencia (Dodina) first — a cynical and bitter woman who doesn’t look too happy to see him — before they both bump into Elisabeth (Kulesza) who bursts onto the scene by letting a wolf-like dog burst onto the dance-floor.
I’ve heard from Russians that they don’t live longer, they live faster. This is certainly true in this film, which is filled with intense emotions and a desire to act out in order to recover lost youth. They are all in their middle age, but acting as if they are 25 years longer, leading up to a final dance that may be their last. Intense rehearsals and shouty performances play out against the party raging downstairs, our attention gripped by the intensity of all three players.
Feeling at times like a Russian take on Silver Linings Playbook, especially in its conflation of mental health issues and dancing, Parquet shares similarly abrasive characters working through deep hurt in order to recover themselves. But unlike the American film, the screenplay keeps its cards close until much later in the film.
Legendary Russian screenwriter turned director in the last 15 years, Aleksandr Mindadze has great confidence in his characters. The screenplay takes a minimalist approach, drip-feeding us information that slowly deepens the richness of the film’s conflicts. There’s a touch of classic stuck-in-one-place Soviet cinema here, evoking both the melancholy-suffused romantic meeting in Station for Two (1982) to the group clashes of Garage (1980) — both directed by Eldar Ryazanov. But while those films tracked their characters in medium takes, the cinematography of Parquet is a masterclass of close-ups by Romanian DOP Oleg Mutu.
The handheld camera seems to move spontaneously, keeping extremely close to its characters and immersing us into their lives. There’s rarely a full-body shot, meaning that the dance is caught in terms of shuffling feet, hands and hips, giving the film a strong sense of sensuality. This closeness of tone means that when the film does cut to a medium shot it creates a striking effect, recalibrating the relationships between the characters. This is even more pronounced by the film’s final haunting wide shot — the only one in the film —which puts this struggle to retain youth into a haunting context.
This is complemented by the music. The tango setting means that there is music almost constantly on in the background, draping the entire film in a deeply nostalgic tone. While “Por una Cabeza” — done to death in thousands of other films — is nowhere to be heard, these timeless tango classics provide an ironic backdrop to the three players who cannot escape the steady dance of time.
Parquet plays in the Main Competition strand of the Tallinn Film festival, running from 13th to 29th November.