The first theatrical feature by TV helmer Vladimir Kott, “The Fly” embodies many solid core virtues of old-fashioned, sentimental Soviet filmmaking: commanding performances, full-blooded characters, sly humor and a strong visual correlation between the human figure and its social and natural surroundings. Story of a rebellious teenage girl and her newfound truck-driver father in a flyspeck town in the Russian boondocks spirals out to include a host of vivid secondary players. The top prizewinner at last year’s Shanghai fest, “The Fly” should create buzz among those nostalgic for straightforward heart-tugging fare with just enough mod edge to avoid hokiness.
Urgently summoned by a woman he cannot recall, Fydor (Alexei Kravchenko, the star of Elem Klimov’s “Come and See”) arrives just in time for her funeral, belatedly learning he’s the proud papa of a 16-year-old girl, Vera (Alexandra Tyuftey, in a standout debut), who has attacked the mafioso mayor and burned down his house. Running a sewage truck to pay to keep his daughter out of jail, Fydor settles in for the duration, engaging in silent battle with his defiant offspring. Vera flatly rejects her alleged sire and spends most of her time aggressively punching bags in a boxing gym.
Helmer Kott invests his characters with an archetypal earthy charisma that would not have been out of place in an Alexander Dovzhenko film. Kravchenko’s womanizing Fydor radiates a good-natured, almost atavistic virility. Unsurprisingly, the presence of this strapping, good-looking man in a town seemingly devoid of same sends shockwaves through the female population — particularly since Fydor relates as warmly to a middle-aged postmistress, worried about her soldier son, as he does to a lonely, bartending math teacher (Yevgenia Dobrovolskaya), dispensing gentle compassion to the first and vigorous sex to the second.
Tyuftey’s pugnacious, freckle-faced Vera has her own brand of brooding intensity, playing protective earth mother to smitten class geek Suslik (Konstantin Poyarkin), uneasily sparring with the sexual attraction of fellow boxer Pulya (Alexander Golubkov), all the while fighting her acceptance of the potent father-figure who has invaded her dead mother’s space.
The film and town seem stuck in some temporal limbo; the scruffy, half-industrialized landscape apparently falls outside the recent tidal wave of Russian capitalist development, the thuggish style of the mayor’s henchmen being the only sign of the times. By infusing this stagnation with rollicking humanism, Kott plants the seeds of a makeshift family within a fading Chekhovian backwater.
Yevgeny Privin’s lensing relays a comfortable aura of intimacy for the thesps’ robust characterizations.