Fragmentary, pretentious and astonishingly beautiful all at once, Russian rhapsody “Euphoria” reps a very eye-catching feature debut for helmer Ivan Vyrypaev, an up-and-comer from Moscow’s experimental legit scene. Pic plunges lustily into an operatic love-triangle composed of a farmer, his wife and an interloping goatherd that leads to tragedy on the Southern steppes. Ravishing lensing by Andrey Neidenov and Vyrypaev’s innovative, damn-the-logic-full-speed-ahead helming may be insufficient to win over those adverse to incoherent storytelling, but adventurous auds with a taste for the poetic may feel euphoric over this intoxicating spectacle. Fest play is assured.
Contempo-set story unfolds on the mazy plains of the Russian steppes, not far from Volgograd, where the population is thinly scattered over hundreds of thousands of acres. Blond goat farmer Pavel (Maxim Ushakov) clapped eyes on dusky beauty Vera (Polina Agureeva) some days before the action begins and fell instantly in love. He finds her walking with her young daughter Masha (Yaroslavna Serova) by the side of a symbolic ravine and declaims his feelings from the other side.
Pavel takes to hanging around Vera’s isolated homestead, raising suspicion from her reformed alcoholic husband Valery (Mikhail Okunev), who bizarrely chooses not to confront the moonstruck stranger but to ignore him. Indeed, characters’ behavior here frequently makes little sense.
According to the helmer at press conference, because these people are so interconnected with nature, Vera and Pavel’s intense love for each other destabilizes the elements around them, which would perhaps explain why the family dog suddenly bites off Masha’s finger, necessitating a long trip to the nearest hospital for treatment. She’s taken by elderly neighbors who have a car.
Vera sets out to visit her and accepts a lift from Pavel, giving them time to start having an affair. Left alone, Valery starts drinking and burns down their house. Taking his gun, he goes after Vera and Pavel, who have car trouble on the way back from the hospital and have to make their way by foot and then boat.
Valery’s seemingly unfaked shooting of a cow at point blank range (which will create distribution problems in some territories) suggests what he has in mind.
Pic is peppered with unnecessary cutaways to extraneous folk, who may be vestiges of subplots lost when pic was trimmed down from a longer, original edit before being screened at Sochi.
Given that’s about it plotwise, much of film’s short but dense running time is devoted to atmospherics. A helicopter or light aircraft is pressed frequently into service to create swooping shots of the spooky, treeless landscape. The lovers’ boat drifts in the Volga, its water so still it looks as if the boat is floating through the stars reflected on the river’s surface.
Eventually, the effect becomes mesmeric, especially given deliberately repetitious use of two orchestral themes, one a rousing tarantella-like whirl, the other a minor-key lament, by composer Aydar Gaynullin. Editing, credited to Igor Malakhov, favors abrupt cuts between scenes that further disorient and eventually beguile.