It Doesn’t Hurt [Мне не больно]
Aleksei Balabanov’s films belong to a wide spectrum of different genres: from art-house to action films, from his war film War to the black comedy Blind Man’s Bluff. In 2006, Balabanov made his first melodrama—It Doesn’t Hurt. For this film, he chose a plot typical of the melodramatic mode: a love story of two young people, one of whom is terminally ill.
Music plays an essential role in all of Balabanov’s films and is an important element in It Doesn’t Hurt. All of the scenes that include Tata (Renata Litvinova) and Misha (Aleksandr Iatsenko) together are accompanied by an old American hit,
“Mammy Blue,” which creates a romantic atmosphere, plays with audiences’ emotions, and separates the love story from the rest of the narrative. As much as Balabanov uses dramatic music in a way that is characteristic of melodrama, at the same time he neglects other conventional principles of the genre, such as the construction of the main character as a positive, strong hero(ine). Misha represents a new type of a romantic hero—a very sensitive and whiny young man who tries to achieve his goals not by using a gun, but by means of his brains. He is not a negative character, but he is not a strong-willed and powerful hero either. The absence of a hard-boiled villain in Balabanov’s film also deviates from the conventional structure of melodrama.
Balabanov goes even further in trying to deconstruct the traditional understanding of melodrama by not including any scenes of violence, whether fights or shootings, which are important for the genre. Even Sergei Sergeevich (Nikita Mikhalkov)—Misha’s rival for Tata’s affections—becomes more sensitive, more humane, and more vulnerable, despite his obvious criminal connections.
The melodramatic love story between the young architect Misha and Tata, who is well cared for by Sergei Sergeevich, is not the only significant element of It Doesn’t Hurt. The film also raises the question of post-Soviet social strata, both narratively and visually. Cinematic space is divided into two different loci: the space of Russian nouveaux riches and the space of young, poor architects-opportunists. The apartments of the rich elite of St. Petersburg are full of light and the walls are painted white—the color of aristocrats. The white stairs to the second floor of these apartments and the white columns—both in Tata’s apartment and in the hall at the reception—organize space vertically, alluding to their status in the social hierarchy. By contrast, the architects’ apartment is old and dark, and has scuffed walls and homeless people living one floor up in the attic.
Balabanov includes a pompous scene featuring a Russian oligarch’s birthday party, filmed in the Shchiukin Drama School. He invites the crème de la crème of the Russian cultural elite—filmmaker Dmitrii Meskhiev and TV stars Kirill Nabutov and Sergei Sholokhov—for cameo roles. The former producer of the Kinotavr Film Festival, Mark Rudenshtein, also has a cameo role as the young architects’ client, Zibel'man. As a consequence, It Doesn’t Hurt not only tells the tearful story of Tata and Misha’s romance, but also opens a door into the pretentious and extravagant world of the Russian cultural beau monde.
Even though the last scenes of It Doesn’t Hurt, filmed in the countryside with cows, goats, and real haystacks, create a pastoral atmosphere—an ideal space for the culmination of Tata and Misha’s love story—the film does not have an idyllic happy end. The main protagonists fail to keep up with the new capitalist principles of the post-Soviet society. They either leave or die, and it is only Misha, a failed melodramatic hero and a failed businessman, who remains unchanged.
1989 Egor and Nastia