Cross the “Miss Lonelyhearts” section of “Rear Window” with “The Lives of Others” and you have the gist, if not the overall ambiance, of helmer-scribe Larissa Sadilova’s genuinely eerie study in surveillance. At once more truly hysterical than Hitchcock’s pathetic-spinster scenario and more analytical than Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s slow-dawning empathy, pic makes radical use of the disconnections among beings moving in visually parallel universes. Layered, disturbing film should add to Sadilova’s growing renown and flourish on fest circuit.
No lone wolf he, private eye Zimin (Valery Barinov) does business out of an office that matter-of-factly combines old-time Soviet bureaucracy with new Russian capitalism. Assigned to bug the apartment of middle-aged Irina (Zoya Kaidanovskaya), Ziman watches as she makes neurotic phone calls to a married ex-lover and fields anxious messages from her mother.
Having no knowledge and little curiosity over who contracted the job and why, Ziman follows her movements on a black-and-white monitor in a van outside her apartment building, the monotonousness of her romantic situation and the emotional extremity of her responses exerting a strange fascination.
At first impossible to comprehend, Ziman’s attraction to Irina lies in her over-the-top acting out of every feeling: Her weeping, wailing, furniture-throwing melodrama beckons to the quietly repressed fiftysomething, whose own marriage to a lovely, intelligent woman (Natalia Kochetova) has degenerated into distant civility.
As it turns out, Ziman has bugged the wrong apartment and the wrong woman. He sets up surveillance for the correct target, a sexy blonde (Maria Leonova) with a rich lover, but his ongoing fixation with Irina develops into full-blown obsession, to extremely disquieting effect.
As in most voyeur films, crossing the line between seer and seen creates substantial narrative tension, but helmer Sadilova refuses any catharsis, leaving her characters shaken and bereft in their completely separate dimensions.
Sadilova ascribes to no principle of identification as she freely cuts between the various points of view, none of which carry much intrinsic emotional baggage. Whether one is watching Irina directly in color, in full-frame black-and-white, in black-and-white on a monitor in Ziman’s van or in excerpted reruns at Ziman’s house, she remains the same neurotic wreck, as resistant to fetishization as she is to empathy.
The same holds true of the sexy blonde, seemingly performing in a different movie altogether, some sleazy thriller about political blackmail that is never filled in, but merely packed up and sent off to play out elsewhere.
Tech credits are aces, as Elena Dashina’s taut cutting, Dobrynia Morgachev and Dmitri Mishin’s atmospheric lensing, and Nigmat Dzhuraev’s nuanced production design lend solidity and spatial logic to an otherwise fragmented universe.