Less is definitely more in the latest minimalist opus from award-winning Russian documentarian Victor Kossakovsky (“The Belov’s,” “Wednesday”). Dually inspired by “View From the Window at Le Gras,” the first photograph ever taken, and E.T.A. Hoffman’s short story “My Cousin’s Corner Window,” “Hush!” consists entirely of shots of a street in St. Petersburg taken from the same window vantage-point over the course of a year. A wonderful deadpan comedy, pic should play well on the fest circuit and may attract marginal arthouse play.
“Hush!” mainly concentrates on a ten-foot section of street that is excavated, filled in, patted down, and steamrolled over with great care and diligence — only to be dug up again in a slightly different pattern, filled in, patted down and steamrolled over again. And again. And again.
The viewer comes to know the different machines and expect their sequenced arrival, while the latest square or oblong or trapezoidal asphalt patch glistens in the rain, shows black in the snow, collects dandelion fluff or, surrounded by red and white fencing, forces traffic to be re-routed around it.
With the center of the canvas so richly occupied, all the details within the frame or slight variation in the action take on heightened importance. Men climb down the adjacent manhole. The passage of a bird or a dog or a man may occasion camera movement as something or someone rounds a corner or continues down the street. The appearance of a young man with a large bouquet of flowers intrigues a neighbor lady with a dog. Women with brooms vigorously raise clouds of dust or eddies of leaves.
Though Kossakovsky doesn’t disdain different focal lenses, zooms and pull-backs, even the occasional red filter, most of the diversity of the image results from changes of season and time of day. Change is so incremental and pictorial, that when any real action enters the frame, it is disorientating: A police car drives up and cops abruptly spill out of the back and side doors with the speed and confused logic of a dream, as they converge on two apparent prisoners.
Much of the flurried activity is evidently part of the preparation for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, but Kossakovsky doesn’t say so — the only word spoken or written during the entire 82 minutes is uttered by a fragile old lady tottering down the street to admonish “hush.”