Things liven up in the second episode, “Ophelia,” penned by Renata Litvinova, who plays the main role. As Ofa, a Jean Harlow-blond femme fatale who works in a maternity hospital, she gains access to a Kafkaesque room where all the mothers in town who have given up their babies for adoption are on file. Ofa herself was one of these abandoned kids, and now she’s out for revenge. First she casually strangles a spacey young mother, then pushes her own heartless mom off a dock. The whole story has an amusing, surreal tone, aided by deadpan perfs from an excellent cast.
In the small-scale “The Maiden and Death,” from a story written by helmer Muratova, an adorable little girl (Lilja Murlykina) gets mad at her kindly grandfather (Oleg Tabakov), who is baby-sitting her from a wheelchair. Tired of taking no for an answer, she fills his tea with rat poison and waits for the results.
Everyday cruelty and unchecked madness, in a world where little value is placed on human life, form the common denominator of these amoral tales, told with Muratova’s sophisticated brand of black comedy. The last two have a tongue-in-cheek smartness a New Yorker would appreciate, and a bottom-line desperation that could only originate in the CIS.
Tech work appears particularly striking only in “Ophelia,” where cinematographer Genadij Karjuk uses bright, bleached-out lensing to bring out the whites of Golubenko’s modernist set design (paradoxical considering the blackness of Ofa’s character), to surreal effect.