Saturday, July 25, 2009

MIFF 2009 Review: Yuri's Day

Yuri's Day
Dir. Kirill Serebrennikov
Year: 2008
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 137mins

Perhaps this film would have been better titled "Yuri's Day and Night" since it has a distinct split personality. On one hand it is, predominantly during the first half, an intense and eerie exploration of a mysterious disappearance in a small provincial town. On the other hand it is a more traditional, if still quite abstract, film about a woman on the search for her missing child. I much preferred the former, but the entire film is still a very worthy viewing.

Kirill Serebrennikov's film opens with mother and son driving to her hometown. She is Lyubov, a famous opera singer on television, about to make the move to Vienna before taking her son to visit her birthplace before leaving Russia forever. He is Andrei and is a bit of a brat, like a lot of teenagers would be if they were being shipped off to another country. It becomes quickly apparent to the pair, however, that their appearance is not exactly warmly welcomed and after a trip to the local equivalent of a theme park - a sort of mini-Kremlin with a bell tower and museum - Andrei disappears. "He can't just vanish" says Lyubov, but as a policeman later tells her 30-40,000 people do every year in Russia.

These opening stretches are filled with ominous images and sounds. There's almost a David Lynchian quality to the opening half of the film - Andrei's disappearance happens relatively quickly - with its score of tuning violins and deep bass on the soundtrack. Images of snow fogs and a town filled with weird characters and creepy architecture help to give the film an unsettling edge. But there is more to it than just that. There is actually some wonderful humour in the relationship between Lbuyov and Andrew; they feel like a real pair these two with histories and a real forged relationship.

After Andrei's disappearance Kseniya Rappoport really shines in the role of Lyubov. Her face expresses so many different emotions and she never skips a beat between portraying fear and confusion whilst still reeling off sarcastic one-liners to the locals. Serebrennikov handles the disappearance with great skill, too. Throwing in various keys to solving the mystery and keeping the deeply eerie atmosphere up.

However, at about the half way mark he decides to turn the film into a more standard affair as Lyubov teams up with the local sheriff to find her son. It doesn't quite descend into Changeling levels of filmmaking, but it certainly removes a big punch that it carried. The more intriguing aspect of this part of the film is Lyubov's descent back into the ways of her ancestors. Dying her hair bright orange (because it's the only colour the local shop sells), becoming a loud brute and using violence against others are just some of the attributes she quickly begins to use that she wouldn't have considered before Andrei.

I won't give away whether the central mystery is resolved, but the answer is almost secondary to Serebrennikov's desire of the story he wanted to tell. The film works best when it presents disquieting imagery such as a lone car in a snowed in car park, a burning tree in a courtyard, a bell tower ringing when it is supposedly locked and empty. When the credits role, however, I was left with a feeling of unease and, despite some of the problems Yuri's Day has, that is actually a good thing. B

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