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Man at the Window

[Человек у окна]

Russia, 2010
Color, 96 minutes

Director: Dmitrii Meskhiev
Screenplay: Il'ia Til'kin
Cinematography: Sergei Machil'skii
Production Designers: Aleksandr Stroilo, Igor' Karev
Music: Iurii Poteenko
Cast: Iurii Stoianov, Kristina Kuz'mina, Sergei Garmash, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Mariia
Zvonareva
Producers: Sergei Shumakov, Sergei Mel'kumov, Dmitrii Meskhiev
Production: Turtle Studio, with Non-Stop Production Studio and TV Channel Russia

The film’s protagonist, Aleksandr Sergeevich (Shura) Dronov has an unremarkable theater career and a sagging family life. His real passion is watching life outside the windows, an obsession for which he has an uncanny explanation. Shura’s accidental meeting with a young woman and her New Russian boyfriend changes Shura’s life and profoundly affects the lives of those around him.

Shura Dronov is played by Iurii Stoianov whose persona as an actor has been cemented by the popular comic TV show Gorodok (Little Town), in which Stoianov has played a variety of contemporary types, most prominently rather corpulent women. In Man at the Window, he appears in the uncharacteristic role of a tragic-comic lover boy. Meskhiev, however, smartly uses Stoianov’s talent for comic skits. Delivered at the subtle border between performance and authenticity, Shura’s monologues are surprisingly captivating. Likewise, Sergei Garmash and Vladimir Vdovichenkov act out of character and succeed in their roles. The director claims that, in trying to make a feel-good-movie without any art cinema tricks, he was not afraid of clichés and banality. Simple stories of love, adultery, jealousy, loyalty, sacrifice, and kindness have indeed been on the back-burner of recent Russian cinema. Meskhiev tells a story of human relationships and has the language to do it.

Shura is a fool-in-Christ character, a voice of prophetic and benign irrationality. The genealogy of this character goes back to Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin (Shura is repeatedly called an ‘idiot”) and El'dar Riazanov’s Iurii Detochkin (Beware of a Car, 1966). Meskhiev’s Shura actually endures all the plot turns of Riazanov’s comedy: he is suspected of insanity, then is declared to be a social idiot, plays a Robin Hood-like character, and finally is tried and sent to jail. Illuminated by a divine wisdom of sorts, Dronov turns well-entrenched social norms upside down. These include the racist treatment of migrant workers, misogynistic treatment of women in modern-day families, and corruption as the main way to socialize children. The film, however, neither relishes its cultural references nor aspires for the status of a social problem film. It delivers its social critique indirectly, via the means of genre cinema: comedy and, above all, melodrama.

St. Petersburg in the film is not a province but neither is it one of the two recurring extremes of the city’s recent cinematic portrayal: the imperial capital or a crime-ridden trash can. Meskhiev’s Petersburg eschews both palatial and slum settings: no imperial embankments or Brother-inspired communal apartments and cemeteries appear on the screen. It is simply a town like many other in Russia, where ubiquitous puddles “shaped like Latin America” greet customers of fashionable Japanese restaurants and clothing boutiques. Sergei Machil'skii’s camera is equally interested in people and their environment. Dronov’s “job” as the “man at the window” motivates many street sketches whose voyeurism is neutralized by the protagonist’s genuine desire to make things better. Framing pays tribute to the nuanced acting without attracting attention to camera work. The only recurring visual motif are the windows that separate spaces and people, but also allow to connect to others.

Meskhiev’s city consists of impeccably restored historical buildings, newly constructed condos, coffee shops, restaurants, and stylish but reasonably priced cars. The city has embraced a middle-class life style and now needs to acquire spiritual respectability. Stoianov’s Shura Dronov reminds the rest of the characters that now that they have all the material accoutrements of middle class life they must think about the values. A bourgeois life-style implies middle class values, and melodrama is the perfect vehicle for their articulation. The middle class cityscape provides the appropriate backdrop.

In an interview, Meskhiev remarked that his film had absolutely nothing that could warrant festival prizes. Yet, Man at the Window was screened on the closing night at Kinotavr, Russia’s major film festival and got the Best Actress award for Mariia Zvonareva (Dronov’s wife). Despite his film’s festival success, Meskhiev has different plans for Man at the Window (commissioned by Channel Russia): a long life on television.

Alexander Prokhorov and Elena Prokhorova

Dmitrii Meskhiev

Dmitrii Meskhiev was born in 1963 in Leningrad. His father was a renowned cameraman and his mother worked at the Lenfilm studio. In 1988 Meskhiev graduated from Marlen Khutsiev’s workshop in the school of directing at the State Institute for Filmmaking. From 1981 until 2008 he worked at the Lenfilm studio where he made over ten films and TV series. At the Moscow International Film Festival, Meskhiev’s Our Own (2004) received both the Golden St. George for best film and the Silver St. George for best director, as well as the Nika award for best picture. From 2001 till 2008 Meskhiev was the artistic director of the Turtle Film Company. In 2009 Meskhiev became the general producer of Russian World Studios in St. Petersburg.

Filmography

2010 The Man at the Window
2007 Seven Booths
2005 The Princess and the Pauper (TV series)
2004 Our Own
2003 Peculiarities of National Politics
2003 Lines of Fate (TV series)
2002 Diary of a Kamikaze
2001 Mechanical Suite
1999 Woman’s Property
1998 The American Lady
1997 The Bomb
1995 Arrival of a Train (short “Exercise #5”)
1993 Over Dark Water
1991 Cynics
1990 Gambrinus

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