Hard-Hearted
[Kremen']

Russia, 2007
Color, 82 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Aleksei Mizgirev
Screenplay: Aleksei Mizgirev, with participation by Iurii Klavdiev
Cinematography: Vadim Deev
Art Director: Denis Shibanov
Cast: Evgenii Antropov, Dmitrii Kulichkov, Sergei Shekhovtsov, Anastasiia Bezborodova, Tat'iana Nastashevskaia, Aleksandr Golubev, Karen Badalov
Producer: Sergei Sel'ianov
Production: STW Film Studio
Awards: Aleksei Mizgirev for Best Debut and Best Script at 2007 Kinotavr Film Festival, Stalker Prize for Best Film at the Stalker International Film Festival

A poster advertising Hard-Hearted reads: "This is Moscow, not a civvy street" ("Zdes' Moskva, a ne grazhdanka"). Following his discharge from the military, Anton Remizov (Evgenii Antropov) embarks for Moscow rather than return to his provincial city of Al'met'evsk. Remizov (addressed throughout the film by his last name) travels to Moscow, the city of his dreams, where he seeks a female classmate, Zinaida, whom he refers to as his "fiancé." Upon his arrival, Remizov ostensibly unites the provinces with the center, yelling: "Al'met'evsk! Al'met'evsk! Moscow!" but he soon finds out that, "In Moscow everything is the other way around."

Remizov's arrival as an outsider serves as an introduction for the viewer to Moscow's environment of deceit and corruption. His naiveté is pitted against his persistent, yet stubborn character, reflected in Remizov's repetitive dialogue. The film's Russian title Kremen' translates best as "Flint," which Remizov takes as his motto: "My word is as strong as flint." Remizov's persistence leads him to remain in Moscow, despite being told numerous times that he is in over his head in the big city. He eventually joins the police force in order to save Zinaida's father from a corrupt officer, only to be sucked into their criminal affairs.

Hard-Hearted will immediately draw comparison to another STW production, Aleksei Balabanov's Brother (1997), as both films feature similar plot lines of the discharged soldier's return to society and subsequent fight to survive in a corrupt civilian world. Yet Hard-Hearted is less concerned with viewing the city as a space of conquest; it debunks the myth portrayed in many films of the post-Soviet period where the (anti-)hero does everything to climb the social ranks in a cutthroat, capitalist society. Rather, in Hard-Hearted, Remizov acts in order to actualize his dream: to live in Moscow and find his girl.

Remizov's "journey" to Moscow also evokes the commonplace Soviet narrative of the "journey to the center," in which the hero's development and adoption of class consciousness facilitates his or her movement towards the ideological locus of the Soviet Union. Moscow itself can often be seen as a hero in these films. Mizgirev gives Moscow a large role in his film as well, as characters break into exaggerated, almost declamatory modes of acting when talking about the city. Mizgirev is also intent on portraying the seedy, everyday life of Moscow. The film explores the gritty spaces of the city, with the majority of scenes taking place in underground pedestrian passages, construction sites, decrepit police stations, and brothels. Visually absent from the film are any recognizable landmarks, which are only briefly referenced in the film by Remizov, who reminisces about dreaming of Moscow as a child, drawing the Kremlin's "saw-toothed" walls.

Hard-Hearted offers a harsh disjuncture between a gritty, everyday existence in Moscow with a heavily dramatized plot in which characters are presented with life and death situations. The film dwells on the individual and the choices one makes in life, which is supported visually, as each of the numerous vignettes always ends in the same fade to black shot, thus starting a new, repeating cycle.

The film's musical score, borrowed from Academy Award-nominated composer Phillip Glass, reinforces the visual repetition. Glass' music is often labeled as minimalist, a part of the experimental or "Downtown music" genres developed in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Glass' song "Facades" features short, cyclical, and melodic structures, used at times haphazardly during scenes, but also very dramatically to conclude each episode on screen.

Mizgirev cannot and does not reconcile the conflicts he presents in Hard-Hearted. While the film offers a steady dose of character and plot development, these elements seemingly lead to no concrete conclusion, but can only stress survival in the city space of Moscow.

Andrew Chapman

Aleksei Mizgirev (1974- )

Born in 1974 in the Myski Kemerovo region, Aleksei Mizgirev graduated in 1997 from the Department of Philosophy at Tomsk State University and in 2004 from the Director's faculty at the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK) from the workshop of Vadim Abdrashitov. During his tutelage under Abdrashitov, he served as Assistant Director during the production of Magnetic Storms (2003). Hard-Hearted is Mizgirev's first feature-length film.

Filmography

2007 Hard-Hearted
2004 Kulagin and Partners (assistant; TV-series)
2004 Notification (diploma film)
2001 Nina (short)
2001 In Transit (short)
2000 A Bad Apartment (short)

 
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