Legendary Russian director Kira Muratova’s latest opus, “Two in One,” is actually a two-part meditation on theater displaying the femme helmer’s signature blend of exquisite imagery and gratuitous cruelty in stunningly abstract form. First section, “Stagehands,” takes place backstage where an inconvenient corpse is found hanging. The second part, “Woman of a Lifetime,” evolves into a grotesque bedroom farce that takes place inside an opulent manor. Vintage Muratova, this arcane pic should garner critical kudos at fests, while the director herself will likely remain an acquired taste.
In initial seg, a wizened stagehand (Aleksandr Bashirov) delivers Hamlet’s existential soliloquy with gusto and much grimacing. In the background, a Pierrot dangles from a white-painted tree. Although it looks like part of the scenery, the figure actually is an actor who committed suicide while in costume.
For the next hour of running-time (12 hours of fictional time), the crew and actors raise and lower the corpse, step over it, cover and uncover it, and bitch, gripe and attack everyone else in the company while waiting for the police to arrive. The camera interacts in an intricate choreography, delicately dipping, gliding, and soaring in a balletic counterpoint that poses a jarring contrast to the troupe. By the time the police arrive, a second corpse has materialized.
Part two, starring and co-written by Muratova regular Renata Litvinova, features an over-the-hill Lothario (Ukrainian vet Bogdan Stupka) who sends his daughter (Natalia Buz’ko) out into the snow on New Year’s Eve to procure a briefly glimpsed blonde whom he declares is the love of his life (or at least a one-night stand).
The graying Don Juan soon finds himself at the mercy of the statuesque blonde (Litvinova). Soon the threesome is romping through salons full of paintings, statues and bric-a-brac depicting nude women of all shapes and sizes.
Thesping is so theatrically over-the-top and deliberately off-putting that none of the goings-on evoke much emotion aside from vague repulsion. Yet the pure artistry of the mise en scene is such that one avidly, eagerly, watches this sensuous spectacle whose unwholesome content is flagrantly anti-erotic.
Muratova delights in toying with the viewer much as blonde Litvinova toys with Stupka, offering a gorgeous display of cinematic delicacies as irresistible as they are poisonous.
Tech credits are superb, lensing by Vladimir Pankov (who also shot Muratova’s “Asthenic Syndrome”) well up to the helmer’s exacting standards.