Review: ‘Troika’

Jennifer Montgomery's first feature, "Art for Teachers of Children," earned arthouse distrib and a controversial reputation for both its subject matter (the young director's own under age affair with a fine-arts photographer later accused of being a child pornographer) and its tactical approach (dramatic reenactments that blurred the line between subjectivity and objectivity). The result was disturbing --- and potentially objectionable --- on several levels. Her soph feature, "Troika," likewise defies categorization by contrasting two tenuously related narrative elements, one fictional, the other factual. But this experimental work is more provocative in concept than in its rather tedious execution, suggesting lean prospects beyond the cinematheque circuit.

Jennifer Montgomery’s first feature, “Art for Teachers of Children,” earned arthouse distrib and a controversial reputation for both its subject matter (the young director’s own under age affair with a fine-arts photographer later accused of being a child pornographer) and its tactical approach (dramatic reenactments that blurred the line between subjectivity and objectivity). The result was disturbing — and potentially objectionable — on several levels. Her soph feature, “Troika,” likewise defies categorization by contrasting two tenuously related narrative elements, one fictional, the other factual. But this experimental work is more provocative in concept than in its rather tedious execution, suggesting lean prospects beyond the cinematheque circuit.

Link between the two intercut threads is Jennifer (Jenny Bass), a 40-ish journalist. In one, she spends time on a yacht interviewing controversial Russian ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Lev Shekhtman), who alternately seems articulate, bizarrely tangential, and lascivious toward both her and the attractive young translator (Marina Shterenberg). If these sequences seem familiar, it’s because the text is taken directly from actual journalist Jennifer Gould’s 1994 Zhirinovsky interview, which was published at length in Playboy magazine and widely quoted elsewhere.

The second recurring strand spies “Jennifer” (who is not clearly intended to be either Gould or Montgomery herself) in the company of her significant other “Z.” (Valery Manenti), whose belligerent, dominating behavior pushes J. and anyone else nearby toward the edge of exasperation.

Latter sequences were created improvisationally, adding to their emotional dissonance but not helping viewer engagement. After a while, it becomes clear that the Zhirinovsky and “Z.” segments are linked by the sexual aggressiveness and “fascistic” coerciveness of one figure, as well as Jennifer’s complicity via passive resistance. This power dynamic is merely presented twice-over, however, rather than truly explored. Closing bit has central figure mysteriously quoting an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” as if it were a letter personally addressed to her.

“Troika” feels like an academic experiment — one that might spur fruitful post-screening discussion — but provides precious little entertainment value or aesthetic interest in the 95 on-screen minutes.

Perfs in both sections are convincing. Tech package is adequate, given that quasi-verite images and uneventful editing pace seems to be what Montgomery was after. Yacht scenes were shot on with the Connecticut River, standing in for the Volga.

Troika

(EXPERIMENTAL DRAMA)

Production

A Guardez-bien production. Produced, directed, written by Jennifer Montgomery.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm), Mark Serman, Horacio Marquinez; editors, Montomgery, Lana Lin; sound, Lin, Naja Moon; assistant director, Charity Snider. Reviewed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room, San Francisco, Nov. 12, 1998. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Jennifer ..... Jenny Bass Zhirinovsky ..... Lev Shekhtman Masha ..... Marina Shterenberg Z ..... Valery Manenti Vitali ..... Vitali Baganov Dimitri ..... Edouard Kamin Igor ..... Dimitri Vakhov Tatiana ..... Isabelle Freda
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