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Film Review: ‘Name Me’

An adeptly played debut in which a yearning for paternal affection plays out against a background of teenage sexual manipulation.

Name Me Review

Olya and Sasha switch identities to meet the father Olya never knew in Nigina Sayfullaeva’s adeptly played debut, “Name Me.” Though the psychology turns facile, this intense drama about yearning for paternal affection, and the way teens use sex as a way of controlling (they think) situations around them, holds interest thanks largely to the dynamic cast and assured direction. Co-scripter Lubov Mulmenko also co-wrote “Another Year,” likewise a femme-centric indie with a contempo vibe and a welcome addition to the Russian cinema landscape. Fests with college-age auds could be fertile ground.

With her sly sex-kitten aura and short shorts, Sasha (Alexandra Bortich) steals attention from anyone else in a room, including best friend Olya (Marina Vasilyeva). They’ve come down on the latter’s initiative to the Crimean resort of Alupka, so that Olya can connect with Sergey (Konstantin Lavronenko), the father she’s never known. Almost paralyzed with nerves, she pretends to be Sasha and vice versa, taking the immediate pressure off Olya as they size up the dad she’s never seen before.

Taciturn Sergey has little interest in being a father — Olya’s mother was literally a roll on the beach — and he treats this planned encounter as something just to get through. Yet he feels a niggling responsibility, compounded by other, more troubling thoughts as Sasha, whom he thinks is his daughter, transgresses boundaries just to get a rise.

The dynamic between the two becomes increasingly heated, with Sergey appalled at his presumed offspring’s sluttish behavior and yet attracted by her physical charms. For Sasha, who never had a paternal figure in her life, this game of cat and mouse is a way of brazenly claiming superiority over what’s really a wound in her psyche. She’s used to working her sexuality to get what she wants, reveling in the power it brings, but the longer she stays at Sergey’s, the less she understands her own motivations. Meanwhile, Olya feels increasingly marginalized, unhappily watching her reticent dad focus his attention on Sasha, and angry that her best friend has hijacked what was meant to be a cathartic meeting with a lost father.

Sayfullaeva does a fine job of building tension, using glances and the actors’ physicality to bring out the troubling undercurrents. However, things go slightly off the rails toward the end as the hothouse atmosphere (and, of course, alcohol) makes everyone behave in outrageous fashion bordering on the ridiculous. By then the psychological profiles feel too textbook, and the finale is a letdown.

Fortunately, the charismatic performances from relative newcomers Bortich and Vasilyeva make their every action compelling, and while Lavronenko (who made his name in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “The Return” and “The Banishment”) has the less flashy part, he grounds it all with his powerful, inarticulate presence. Also worth mentioning is Anna Kotova in the small role of Sveta, renting a room in Sergey’s house: Unflappably chipper and downright kooky, she merits a movie in her own right.

The visuals have that observational, exploratory feel now de rigueur for most indie productions; while it generally works, the lensing could use a bit more modulation, so scenes with greater emotional instability could benefit from extra camera shakiness.

Film Review: ‘Name Me’

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors), Sept. 22, 2014. Running time: <strong>90 MIN</strong>. (Original title: “Kak menya zovut”)

  • Production: (Russia) A Profit, Droog Drooga Film Co. production. (International sales: Antipode Sales & Distribution, Moscow.) Produced by Igor Tolstunov, Sergey Kozlov, Sergey Kornikhin. Co-producer, Anna Kagarlitskaya.
  • Crew: Directed by Nigina Sayfullaeva. Screenplay, Lubov Mulmenko, Sayfullaeva. Camera (color), Mark Ziselson; editor, Vadim Krasnitsky; production designer, Marusia Parenova-Chukhray; sound, Eugene Goryainov.
  • With: Konstantin Lavronenko, Alexandra Bortich, Marina Vasilyeva, Kirill Kaganovich, Anna Kotova.
  • Music By: