Traveling with Pets
[Puteshestvie s domashnimi zhivotnymi]

 

Russia, 2007
Color, 97 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Vera Storozheva
Screenplay: Arkadii Krasil'shchikov
Cinematography: Oleg Lukichev
Art Direction: Igor' Kotsarev
Music: Il'ia Shipilov
Cast: Kseniia Kutepova and Dmitrii Diuzhev
Producers: Sabina Eremeeva and Igor' Tolstunov
Production: Studio Slon and PROFIT Film Co., with support from the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema

A predominantly visual film of few words by only a handful of actors, Traveling with Pets opens simultaneously with a death and a birth: Natal'ia's husband (or khoziain, as she refers to him), to whom she was sold by an orphanage at the age of sixteen, falls dead while selling milk to a passing train. It is at this moment that Natal'ia finds herself alone and free, an independent agent for the first time in her life. She begins building a new future for herself with small steps: first by redecorating her apartment—by torching her husband's possessions and adorning the one-room shack (a secluded converted railroad outpost) with a mirror, a flat-screen television, clippings of Western celebrities from pop-culture magazines, and a particular Orthodox icon of the Mother of God known as the "Softening of Angry Hearts." Natal'ia begins to see herself not just as a laborer but as a desirable woman and she soon takes a lover, Sergei, after which her appearance transitions from genderless to more feminine, and finally, to fashionable. The film follows her symbolic rebirth from a state of almost non-existence, in which she is a barely capable of language, into confidence, self-sufficiency, and, ultimately, selfhood. The new Natal'ia is no longer a "slave," as she refers to her former self, but is satisfied with having replaced the men in her life with two new animal companions: a stray dog and a goat. In the end even Sergei is discharged, as Natal'ia has learned to manage all her domestic chores on her own, and she no longer requires him for sex (after all, he did not get her pregnant as she had hoped).

Advertised as a "Railroad Romance," the film is punctuated by the rumbling of passing trains, though it lacks any real romance. However, while the overhead shots of low-flying planes in Larisa Sadilova's Needing a Nanny (2005) (another film that, along with Traveling with Pets, has been described by critics as "po-zhenski") serve as a kind of disruptive narrative static, the constant railroad traffic in Storozheva's film is not so much interference as it is a double-sided narrative device. On the one hand, the passing trains present the potential for movement and escape: Natal'ia travels along the rails with her pets on a hand cart and as she becomes more confident she travels further from home and does so more often. On the other hand, the proximity of Natal'ia's home to the tracks confines her to a tragic past that is inextricably linked with the railroad—a psychological restriction that is apparent in a scene in which Natal'ia finds herself unable to carry out a spontaneous attempt to flee on a passing train. It is for this reason that when Natal'ia makes the final trip on her journey, she does so not by rail but by boat—a boat that Storozheva is careful to highlight that Natal'ia herself mended.

In adherence to the stereotypes suggested with the early introduction of the icon of the Mother of God, the completion of Natal'ia's journey to selfhood is only possible in her transformation into the icon—into the image of the "divine mother," with the softening of her angry heart through the adoption of a young orphan, completing her own transition from orphan to mother. Despite its predictable conclusion, however, after its premiere at the 29th Moscow International Film Festival in 2007 Traveling with Pets left with the festival's main prize. Yet the win was viewed by many as an upset, and not only because Storozheva's film is almost a one woman show. Rumors quickly circulated that jury member Renata Litvinova (long-time associate of both Storozheva and director Kira Muratova, the latter with whom both Storozheva and Litvinova have worked extensively) played a decisive role in the choice of Storozheva's third feature film for the main prize.

Vera Storozheva (1958- )

Storozheva graduated from the Moscow State Institute of Culture (1983) before studying at the VKSiR, the Advanced Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors (1993, workshop of Aleksandr Mitta). In addition to Traveling with Pets she has made over twenty-five TV and documentary films and two feature films. She also acted in Kira Muratova's The Asthenic Syndrome (1989) and co-wrote the script for Muratova's Three Stories (1997).

Filmography

2007 Traveling with Pets
2004 Greek Holidays
2003 The Frenchman (TV)
2002 Sky. Plane. Girl.
1999 Alive Pushkin (Documentary)

 
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