4 review

:. Director: Ilya Khrzhanovsky
:. Starring: Marina Vovchenko, Sergei Shnurov
:. Running Time: 2:06
:. Year: 2005
:. Country: Russia


There are a few films, which after seeing them, you are not sure if you loved them or hated them. Ilya Khrzhanovsky's first feature 4 belongs to that category and by looking at the number of people who left during the screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival, it is certain that it's the kind of work that can't leave audiences indifferent.

4 starts with the unexpected meeting of three lost souls in an empty bar, late at night. Marina Vovchenko plays the central character here, a young prostitute who pretends to be working in advertising. Her two drink buddies, two men in their 30's, also lie about their jobs, but once they part ways, we follow them and it becomes clear that none of these characters is happy, as they are all prisoners of a somewhat sordid life.

While the film only features three main characters, the fourth element referred by the title is, according to the filmmaker, a metaphor. While he didn't really explain its significance, the fourth role might be attributed to destiny, which for a short time, links their lives before catching up with them separately, with a strong dose of irony. Another recurrent theme here is the omnipresence of stray dogs and the absence of any decent male character, which seems to hint at the decadence of man in modern Russian society. Not only are men assimilated to animals with primitive instincts, but the presence of puppets with genitals in a village only inhabited by women also indicates they have lost their virility.

4 was co-written by Vladimir Sorokin, a well-known post-modern writer, which might explain the intricate and mysterious facture of the film — while it's certainly a full-fleshed picture, there is an inherent literary and artistic feel here. The pace is slow, almost naturalistic, which clearly defines its references in Russian cinema of the 70's and 80's, but rather than going for an emblematic philosophical or political approach, the director prefers to push the buttons of the audience, with a few voluntarily painful scenes and annoying characters — most particularly the group of old women.

Khrzhanovsky is one these intellectual provocateurs and while we certainly have a taste for these kinds of filmmakers, here at Plume Noire, 4 is bathed in a pretentious atmosphere that makes it even more difficult to assimilate, even if you love it. More problematic and probably inherent to the fact this is the work of a first-time director, 4 is based on a flawed premise, as despite its desire to build a movie around 3 characters — or 4 according to the title — there is a serious narrative unbalance, the story of the girl taking around 90% of screen time. And this is one of the main dangers of art films, as if you want to be openly pretentious, you need to deliver a faultless piece, otherwise your posture cannot be taken totally seriously. In this case, the result is intriguing enough to see a lot of promise in this young director.

  Fred Thom

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