Nothing succeeds like excess in “Gloss,” a pointed, if overlong, contempo fairy tale by 70-year-old Russian vet Andrei Konchalovksy about the victory of style over substance. Pic entertainingly charts the rise and rise of a plucky seamstress from provincial Russia through the labyrinthine and equally flashy worlds of fashion, politics and crime. Helmer’s name no longer has the cachet it radiated back in the ’80s, but still has enough to attract fest allure. International commercial prospects would be increased by a 15-minute trim.
In the town of Rostov, ambitious seamstress Galya (Yuliya Vysotskaya) works in a clothing factory. As the story begins, her photo has just appeared in a local newspaper’s sexy advertisement. Dreaming of becoming a supermodel and living a fantasy life of tropical islands and lingerie, Galya taps her thuggish b.f., Vitya (Ilya Isaev), for train fare and heads to Moscow.
There, Galya marches into the offices of Top Beauty magazine, run by an editor (Irina Rozanova) who makes Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada” look like Shirley Temple. While admiring Galya’s chutzpah and her gifts of lobsters and handicrafts, the editor gives a withering appraisal of the wannabe’s chances before ignoring her.
Galya bounces back with a seamstress’ job backstage at the fashion shows of famed Russian designer Mark Schiffer (Yefim Shifrin). Through grim determination, a willingness to please and plain dumb luck, Galya uses this gig as a backdoor to the celebrity she seeks.
Meanwhile, Vitya has also been rising through the ranks of crime and politics as the bodyguard of gangsters and governors. In the final reels, Galya and Vitya’s two worlds, which previously overlapped, decisively collide.
Script’s jaded eye places a damning judgment on the cult of celebrity and the shallowness of some people’s dreams. By targeting a wider world than that of pure fashionistas, pic is much more successful than Robert Altman’s “Pret-a-Porter.”
However, Konchalovksy and co-writer Dunya Smirnova show too much affection for their spirited heroine to deliver the killer blow pic cries out for. Still, its smart lampooning of present-day, capitalistic Moscow (and capitalism in general) still draws blood.
Vysotskaya manages to move Galya from feisty naif to knowing participant without jeopardizing audience affection. With the notable exception of the thesps who play her cartoonish provincial parents, supporting performances are well controlled and transcend mere parody. Konchalovksy’s top-otch direction maintains momentum even as the story threatens to spiral out of control.
Lensing is appropriately glossy, with neon montages of Moscow streetscapes like a color version of ’50s New York circa “Sweet Smell of Success.” Other credits are similarly impeccable.
Pic premiered as the opening gala at last June’s Sochi festival. Hong Kong fest screening was touted as “the director’s cut,” though reports indicate changes amount to only minor finessing. For the record, the Russian main title carries a trademark symbol.