The New Positive Hero: Masculinity and Genre in Recent Russian Cinema
Symposium 2009
Mukha
[Муха]

Russia, 2008
Color, 107 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Vladimir Kott
Screenplay: Vladimir Kott
Cinematography: Evgenii Privin
Art Direction: Oleg Ukhov
Sound: Anton Silaev
Cast: Aleksei Kravchenko, Aleksandra Tiuftei, Sergei Selin, Evgeniia Dobrovol'skaia
Producer: Evgenii Gindilis
Production: TVINDI Film Production Company, NTV

Vladimir Kott’s debut film Mukha was released in Russia in June 2008 and was praised by many international film critics. It received a number of awards at different international festivals, among which are the Special Prize of the International Expert Jury for European Debuts at the International Festival for Children and Youth Cinema in the Czech Republic (2008), the Best Film Award at the 11th Shanghai Film Festival (2008), the Best Debut at the 18th International Film Festival in Germany (2008), and the People’s Choice Award at the Festival of Russian Cinema Univercine in France (2009).

In his film, Kott plays with various genre conventions: there are elements of comedy, melodrama, action, and drama. Mukha begins with a number of comic situations and moments. The main male character, Fedor, the truck-driver, becomes an object of laughter at work when one of his colleagues pours water over him by accident. He is turned down by one of his girl-friends saying “I live with Prokhor now,” and light, cheerful music accompanies this scene. Fedor, with another truck-driver Ivan, stops at the road in order to help two women and a girl get out of a crashed car, and the only thing the women discuss sitting upside-down in their car is their tomatoes from their summer cottage. Both men wear the same ridiculous clothes throughout the entire film: Ivan has a novelty shirt with old cars on it and a funny sun hat, while Fedor has a striped marine shirt, dark grey baggy pants, and a jacket that makes him look like a beggar. In the opening scene, both men are presented to the audience as comic characters, but by the end of the film, Fedor gradually develops into a more serious protagonist, a more dramatic figure.

Kott introduces a comedy of situation by making Ivan develop feelings for one of the rescued women, only later to find out that she is married. Fedor goes to the provincial town of Barabash after receiving a telegram from a woman he does not remember, and after a set of awkward situations, he discovers that he has a sixteen-year-old daughter. He has to adjust to his new life, new job, and new family. Fedor believes that he is upgrading his life by finally settling down and becoming a responsible father. However, his situation does not develop into a happy reunion between him and his daughter, Vera Mukhina, whose name ironically repeats the name of a prominent Soviet sculptor, the author of infamous Worker and Collective Farm Woman. The reference to this Soviet imagery, created by Mukhina in the 1930s comes in the opening scenes of the film when the truck-drivers enter Barabash. The poster, drawn in a socialist realistic style, portrays a peasant woman and a male worker who welcome visitors, suggesting that this provincial town has not been affected by the new social and economic changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many Russian film critics draw parallels between Kott’s Mukha and the Thaw film When the Trees Were Big (1961) by Lev Kulidzhanov, for their focus on a reconstructed family and the relations between a teenage orphan and an adult man who is willing to adopt the young girl. Both Fedor and his daughter Vera, however, are much more complex characters than their counterparts in Kulidzhanov’s film. Kott plays with stereotypes about truck-drivers and presents both Fedor and Ivan as womanizers who, from time to time, do not disdain the service of cheap provincial prostitutes. Fedor’s life drastically changes upon his arrival in Barabash. He attempts to exchange his flaneur identity with multiple girl-friends all over the country into a responsible single father. He replaces his prestigious and well-paid job as a truck-driver with the position of a local “shit-sucker,” a driver of a septic tank truck. Fedor makes all these sacrifices because, similar to the Thaw characters, he dreams about building his own family with Vera, even if this family is dysfunctional and father-daughter relations can be life threatening.

Vera is known at her school and at her boxing class under the nickname Mukha (a fly), and she is very independent and tough. Her passion for boxing, her boyish appearance, and her aggressiveness makes her more “manly” than her father, who sets the table for breakfast in a neat order and depends on his friends, truck-drivers, for getting money to pay Vera’s debt. For the boxing scenes and a strong female character-fighter, many critics have compared Kott’s film with Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004). Throughout the film, Kott shows Vera as a well-balanced, calm, unemotional person who teaches her classmate, Suslik, how to act like a real man. Vera’s confrontational attitude toward adults and destructive behavior vary from breaking toothbrushs to smashing the window of her father’s truck, from arson to attempted murder. She is reminiscent of the troubled youths in Perestroika cinema, in such films as Vasilii Pichul’s Little Vera (1988), and Mikhail Tumanishvili's Avariia—A Cop’s Daughter (1989), which also focus on the conflict between daughters and fathers. Kott’s Mukha differs from Perestroika films insofar as it indicates that Vera, like Fedor, is craving a “real” family, with “mother and father not starting dinner without her,” “with a pot of borscht on the table and her favorite pasta with ground meat.”

It is after his arrival in Barabash that Fedor gets an opportunity not only to express his active sexual appetite by sleeping with a local math teacher and flirting with other women, but also discover his compassionate nature and his sensitivity. During the school dance, he puts on sunglasses and starts dancing a robot dance that makes him look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hyper-masculine character from Terminator (1984) who, in the 1991 sequel, also serves as an example of a substitute father for the film’s young hero. Through his confrontation with a more “masculine” and unemotional daughter, Fedor finally bursts in tears. The closing scene of Mukha not only suggest that this new Russian family has a chance to survive, but also returns Fedor his initial status as a comic character by showing him jogging on the road toward the dawn and the industrial landscape, with his knees up high in the air. There is no room for drama if there is to be an opportunity for the father-daughter “ever after.”

Vladimir Kott

Vladimir Kott was born in 1973. He graduated from the Directing Faculty of GITIS (State Theatre Institute) in 1996 under the supervision of Boris Golubovskii. Between 1996 and 2000 Kott worked as a theater director in different provincial theaters, such as the Tver' Theater for Young Spectators, the Novgorod Drama Theater, and others. In 2000, he worked for his twin-brother Aleksandr, and served as second director for the feature film Two Drivers. In 2001 he enrolled in the Advanced Courses for Scriptwriting and Film Directing, where he studied under supervision of Vladimir Khotinenko. He graduated from the Advanced Courses with a degree in film directing in 2003. Since 2002, he has worked on a number of TV projects and TV series for the channels RTR, TVTs, ORT, and NTV.

Filmography:

2008 Mukha
2006 Silver Samurai. Oranienbaum. (TV)
2006 The Hunter (TV)
2005 Family Exchange (TV)
2004 The Door (diploma work)

-Olga Klimova

 

 

 

 

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