This Russian film contains some beautiful cinematography: long shots of “unnecessary” action. There is a scene where Aist steps off a bridge and the camera remains focused on the foot of the bridge with the water beneath it for a while after. I like this because it gives me time to digest what the character just said. I also like it because it captures something of real life: those moments that could spin out forever. The bridge stays the same and the water moves, sometimes gently, sometimes not and it carries on being what it is after the human has gone. Except the bridge and the water don’t stay the same. There is a dynamic process at work that we can’t see with the naked eye. Molecules are breaking down and becoming part of something else: air, the earth, water.
That’s what this film is about:
death. The premise is Miron’s wife, Tanya, has died and he wants Aist to help him in the Merya traditional death ritual. As Aist accompanies Miron on the drive to the place chosen for the cremation, we learn more about the marriage. We learn that Merya people don’t believe in gods; they believe in love between humans. But this contrasts to the scenes shown of Miron and his wife. She was two decades younger than him when they married and worried that she didn’t know how to dress to please her husband. As they drive Miron speaks of their sex life: he always initiated it and states she had three working holes. The film cuts to a scene of his wife looking away from the camera, as if ill or enduring something horrid. As the camera pulls back we see she is touching herself on the genitals as her husband watches her face intently. Her face does not express enjoyment and when she begins to reach orgasm her body moves slightly. If this is typical of the Merya “love” then the females are groomed to be used sexually by the males, who, apparently, are unaware of the lack of joy this brings to the females.
Later, Miron states he should have let her go which suggests he knew she wasn’t happy in the arrangement. This is reflected by the birds (Buntings) in the cage that Aist brings with them. Tanya would have wanted them to be free, Miron states. The birds spend most of the film fluttering about the cage trying to find a way out. This symbolises the marriage of Miron and Tanya: she is caught in the cage of his desires and jealousies, which are displayed in flashback scenes. The film captures the pain of desire mistaken for love. This story, alongside the stories of other deaths, unfolds through breathtakingly beautiful camera shots.
I walked home from the Duke of York cinema after watching this film and noticed more: I saw the weeds growing out of the cracks between pavement and wall, I smelt the flowers, I stared up at the leaves overhead and everything looked, smelt, sounded amazing. Real. The film helped me tune back in to what’s important to me: these little details that are so beautiful and make the hard stuff a little easier to bare.