“Katia Ismailova,” the story of a married woman whose personality is transformed by a passionate affair, puts a modern spin on the Russian taste for tragic literary heroines. Style is more potent than the content in young Russian helmer Valeri Todorovski’s sophomore outing, but slyly sustained noir atmosphere puts across the classic murder-without-remorse narrative. Pic should be welcome at fests.
Bland, submissive Katia (Ingeborga Dapkounaite) types up manuscripts for her mother-in-law, Irina (Alice Freindlikh), a successful author of romance novels, while Katia’s hubby, Mitia (Alexandre Feklistov), is more deeply devoted to Mom than to his wife.
The threesome repair to Mom’s dacha, where brooding, seductive handyman Serguei (Vladimir Machkov) awakens Katia’s buried passions in a steamy sexual encounter on a windowsill. Mother-in-law, who has a heart condition, catches the illicit lovers in the act.
Katia, besotted with sex, becomes bold and giddy, but Serguei’s sexual attention span is limited. A local judge who is intimately familiar with Irina’s writing takes a special interest in the peculiar and deadly developments at the dacha.
Pic’s psychology and several plot points, including the finale, are highly derivative, but the inventive lensing and fine thesping win out. Leonid Dessiatnikov’s omnipresent score, at its best when sinister and slightly dissonant, grows intrusive and overbearing and could be toned down to good effect.
Modestly budgeted Franco-Russian pic gives every indication that helmer (whose 1991’s “Lioubov” also played in the Directors Fortnight) is a talent to watch.