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Film Review: ‘The Hope Factory’

Undisciplined handheld lensing works against the desired authenticity in Natalia Meschaninova's gritty debut.

Daria Savelieva, Polina Shanina, Maxim Stoyanov, Stepan Devonin, Daniil Steklov, Ivan Prill, Sergey Ovchinnikov, Kseniya Radchenko, Alexandra Makarskaya, Dmitry Kubasov, Mikhail Troinik, Irina Gavra, Gennadiy Semenov, Marina Ivanova, Sergey Udovik, Ludmila Silina, Irina Evdoschuk.

Life ain’t pretty in the industrial city of Norilsk, home to the directionless youth of Natalia Meschaninova’s feature debut, “The Hope Factory.” Needless to say, hope is in short supply, drowned in cheap booze, jealousy, aggressive posturing and the desire, but not the gumption, to leave. While it feels like an honest portrayal, “Factory” too often repels connection thanks to undisciplined handheld lensing that’s meant to be edgy, when in truth the shaky camera is attention-grabbing and self-absorbed. This gritty take on coming-of-age in Nowheresville will flit about fests, acting as an early-stage calling card for its rising helmer.

The Arctic city of Norilsk is home to intense mining operations and staggering amounts of pollution, offering citizens few opportunities to distract from the punishing weather conditions. At the pic’s start, a group of friends in their late teens are partying outside, hepped up on booze, acting belligerent, and envious that one of their own is leaving for St. Petersburg. The camera dances around in a mimicry of alcoholic instability, almost p.o.v. in the way it stays on top of characters lurching back and forth in tedious flux.

The only semi-responsible one seems to be Sveta (Daria Savelieva), working in a factory medical clinic and focusing on how she can join b.f. Max (Maxim Stoyanov) in Voronezh. They Skype regularly, but he’s being cagey and not exactly pushing for her to come. The uncertainty is making Sveta combative at work and boiling with jealousy against Nadya (Polina Shanina), a good-time girl whose history with Max, and lack of compunction when it comes to selling her body for a one-way ticket out of town, send Sveta into a tailspin.

Dreams of escape mix with niggling pride in a hometown where hardship offers a certain satisfaction of the “we’re tougher than you” variety. Meschaninova, who also co-wrote the superior “Another Year” with collaborator Lubov Mulmenko, throws viewers into the heart of these dead-end blues, capturing the tensions and exaggerated antics of young adults staring bleakly into a future that offers few options apart from the ones they’re rebelling against.

Chaining this slice-of-life vibe to overactive camerawork does a disservice to the helmer’s desired realism: After all, the brain optically compensates for the way we process our body’s movements, so why have lensing induce nausea in a misguided bid for authenticity? More successful is the way she makes Norilsk an omnipresent character in its own right, its inescapable industrial chimneys and treeless wastelands an ugly, oppressive companion to youngsters struggling to deal with their place in the world.

Film Review: 'The Hope Factory'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2014. (Also in Gothenburg Film Festival — Focus Russia.) Running time: 104 MIN. (Original title: “Kombinat nadezhda”)

Production: (Russia) A Look Film, First Creative Union production. Produced by Elena Stepanischeva, Zaur Bolotaev, Alexander Plotnikov, Petr Gudkov, Eugeny Semin.

Crew: Directed by Natalia Meschaninova. Screenplay, Meschaninova, Lubov Mulmenko, Ivan Ugarov. Camera (color), Eugeny Tsvetkov, Ivan Mamonov; editors, Daria Danilova, Dmitry Kubasov; production designer, Olga Urasova; costume designer, Alana Snetkova; sound, Saulius Urbanavicius.

With: Daria Savelieva, Polina Shanina, Maxim Stoyanov, Stepan Devonin, Daniil Steklov, Ivan Prill, Sergey Ovchinnikov, Kseniya Radchenko, Alexandra Makarskaya, Dmitry Kubasov, Mikhail Troinik, Irina Gavra, Gennadiy Semenov, Marina Ivanova, Sergey Udovik, Ludmila Silina, Irina Evdoschuk.

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