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Chapiteau-Show II: “Respect” and “Cooperation”
[Шапито-шоу: «Уважение» и «Сотрудничество»]

Russia, 2011Chapiteau-Show 2
Color, 103 minutes
In Russian, with English subtitles
Director: Sergei Loban
Screenplay: Marina Potapova
Cinematography: Ivan Mamonov, Evgenii Tsvetkov
Production Design: Alena Kudrevich
Music: Zhak Poliakov
Cast: Petr Mamonov, Stepan Devonin, Sergei Kuz'menko, Sergei Popov, Sergei Bolzhin-Iastrebov, Stas
Baretskii, Aleksandr Shpagin
Producers: Ekaterina Gerasicheva, Aleksei Ageev, Mikhail Sinev
Production: Organic Films

Much like the first two installments of Chapiteau-Show, “Respect” and “Cooperation” examine the uneasy relationship between reality and simulcra.  Here, cinematography comments on itself, films the process of film-making, only to question openly the possibility of an adequate correlation between a thing and its representation.  As in “Love” and “Friendship,” Sergei Loban grounds this problem in an examination of personal relationships.  “Respect” portrays a shattered father-son relationship that details the inability of an older generation to understand its progeny, while “Cooperation” follows the career of a Viktor Tsoi impersonator and his producer who is eager to profit off of his “ersatz star” and the theoretical claim that life and art are driven by substitution and parody.


Loban has acknowledged that “Respect” intentionally parallels Andrei Zviangintsev’s The Return (2003), and is equally inspired by the works of Andrei Tarkovskii and Ingmar Bergman.  This influence is readily apparent in the film’s central conflict: son Nikita (Stepan Devonin) receives a phone call from his father, Petr (Petr Mamonov), whom he has not seen in eight years.  The two seek reconciliation in a camping trip, where Nikita struggles to live up to his father’s high expectations.  On their trip, Petr identifies himself as a man of high self-reliance.  Like the dead beetle whose head still moves and bites, Petr lives beyond his time, moving and acting without knowing why.  His feelings of patriarchal independence find their accumulation in the character Aidamir, a simple man who lives by himself in a communal cottage [priiutnik] in the woods.  The three men meet and hunt wild boar in the woods, much to the delight of Petr and the humiliating fear of Nikita.


If “Respect” mirrors the Oedipal coming-of-age of the two sons and their father in Zviagintsev’s The Return, Loban has infused his parodic plot with a necessary sense of humor.  The suspenseful intensity of Zviagintsev’s father finds its contrast in Petr Mamonov’s comic portrayal of an absurd, irrational, yet commandeering father.  Furthermore, Loban has grounded the generational gap that divides Nikita and his father in a commentary on contemporary Russian film.  Petr originally asks Nikita to return to Moscow when he says he considers Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun (1994) to be a bad film.


Similarly, just as Loban himself has parodied and “distorted” Zviagintsev’s The Return, so does Petr misunderstand and significantly alter the film his son wants to make.  Nikita tells his father that he has already planned a script for a film entitled “Hoodlums” (Otmorozki).  In it, a young boy attempts to earn respect in a seedy youth gang but cannot because of his agoraphobia.  Once the two have hitchhiked their way to Yalta, Petr relays the idea of the film to the director Shpagin.  Here, the film has changed to “Frost” (Zamorozki) and tells the story of a father who wishes to avenge the murder of his son at the hands of a gang of hoodlums.  The father’s improper transposition of his son’s film centers the main conflict in “Respect” as the inability of an older generation to understand a younger one.  Nikita is forced to live in his father’s simulacra, an older world in which older, established tastes, as eccentric as they may be, triumph.  In his own performance at the Chapiteau-Show, the infamous carnival where many characters throughout the film sing and dance their way through interior development, Nikita laments that he looked “improper in the company of kings,” for it is his father and other kings that appropriate his dreams.


Reconciliation, albeit tacit, does occur between father and son.  Nikita runs from his father and becomes stranded on a sea platform, only to be rescued by his friend Serezha Popov (Sergei Popov), who plays the main lead in “Cooperation.”  On their return to the mainland, Nikita sees his father shot by one of his friends from Chapiteau-Show.  In his final scenes, Nikita with a smile on his face helps his father into a train heading for Moscow.  The two have presumably found some sense of reconciliation, yet a performer at the Chapiteau-Show seems to imply that reconciliation has nonetheless not occurred at the expense of Nikita’s self-worth: “There are many remixes, but only one song!”Chapiteau-Show 2


“Respect” concludes with the premise that Nikita has not had to compromise himself in order to come to terms with his father.  In “Cooperation”, the final installment of Chapiteau-Show, the relationship between a thing and its representation is explicitly challenged.  Whereas Nikita wanted to maintain some sense of independence from the world of his father, Serezha, Nikita’s friend and aspiring music producer, wishes to capitalize on simulation and the world of fakes.  Serezha joins forces with a Viktor Tsoi impersonator named Roman “Roma” Kuz'menko (Sergei Kuz'menko) in order to “replace Tsoi for the whole country.”  Serezha imagines Roma as an “ersatz star,” an emanation of the original Tsoi.  Roma occupies the central position in what Serezha calls his manifesto of unoriginality: pointing at the reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Serezha declares that everything is a copy and nothing is real.


The world of “Cooperation,” then, is understandably one of total simulacra.  Roma stars in the television show The Price of Life (Tsena zhizni), explaining the parallels between his and Viktor Tsoi’s life.  He and Serezha appear in a televised interview and argue that everything is ersatz, a replication.  The action is often shown through the camera of a hired documenter, Sergei Mikhailovich (Sergei Volzhin-Iastrebov).  At every moment replicas become confused with that which they replicate: Serezha’s grandfather’s famous painting, the life of Viktor Tsoi, and even the very characters, who are named after the actors that play them.


After an argument between Serezha and Roma, Roma finds work impersonating Tsoi at the Chapiteau-Show.  Here, the line between the interior lives of the characters and the external world becomes blurred; the performances on the tent’s stage exist in some sort of middle ground, between reality and performance.  Roma’s impersonation work is understandably at home at the Chapiteau-Show, but Chapiteau-Show’s world of imitation comes under attack by the calculating Serezha.  The final scenes of “Cooperation” lay bear the central conflict in Loban’s Chapiteau-Show: how do art and technology mediate relationships, and what happens when these technologies collide with life?

Trevor Wilson

Sergei Loban graduated from the Moscow Institute of Mathematics and Electronics, and soon began a career in various Russian counterculture art movements.  He was a member of the group zAiBi (“For anonymous and free art”) before moving on to help found SVOI2000, an arts company whose members have collaborated on both Chapiteau-Show and Dust (2005), Loban’s first feature-length film.Loban

Filmography:

2011    Chapiteau-Show
2011    Mamom-Loban (documentary)
2005    Dust
2005    Television (short documentary)
2002    Suck a Banana (short musical)
2001    Incident with a Bro

 

 

 

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