A sweet but ultimately inconsequential curio, fantastical Russian romantic comedy “Indifference” reps a matrushka of pastiches. Filming commenced in 1989 in monochrome, mimicking the look of French New Wave films for a love triangle set during the space race, and then completed this year after a 22-year hiatus. Domestically, the mainstream will be largely indifferent to the pic’s fey charms, although the spectacle of now-bald star Fedor Bondarchuk in hirsute days is amusing. If only the pic had ceased shooting in the ’80s for political reasons, rather than simply because the filmmakers ran out of coin, it would have more fest appeal.
Set sometime around the late 1950s, the action starts with mistakenly arrested hipster Selyutin (Bondarchuk) getting into a fight in a Moscow jail cell with shifty criminal type Garik (Sergei Bragin). Both are released, but their paths will cross again, since Garik has been dating the beautiful Zhuzha (Olga Shorina), whom Selyutin tries to woo, with some success, after meeting her at a dance hall. In between dates with Zhuzha, Selyutin hangs out with his friends, including spectacle-wearing Sykov (Artyom Prokin) and mechanically minded Buchnev (Alexander Bashirov), who’s helped Selyutin build a fancy, American-style car. Lots of hanging out ensues, sometimes in bars that play rock ‘n’ roll, the kind of joints that would have been underground dives in the late ’50s and were just becoming permissible 30 years later.
Meanwhile, a fetching mutt named Tuzlik (canine thesp VIP, who rather resembles Laika, the first animal to orbit Earth) has escaped from a space-program lab and is roaming the streets of Moscow. Controlled by a collar that occasionally induces CGI bug-eyed spasms, Tuzlik appears in scenes with Selyutin and the others, but really adds nothing to the main story.
Other newfangled techniques and old-fashioned, scratchy frame-by-frame animation are also deployed to fill out bits of the story the filmmakers couldn’t afford to shoot back in 1989. The cartoony bits are particularly amusing, deliberately jerky and hand-drawn, but free-flowing from visual to visual in a way that recalls Soviet-style animation, adding a layer of whimsy to what’s already a featherweight flight of fancy.
The live-action lensing, done on what looks like an Arriflex rig, likewise has a pleasant, pencilly, retro look that adds to the whole film perdu quality of the project. Thesps strike fetching poses but aren’t really called on to do much more than channel the mannerisms of Jeanne Moreau or Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Pic won the top prize at this year’s Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival.