Long and Happy Life
[Долгая счастливая жизнь]
Color, 77 minutes
In Russian with English subtitles
Director: Boris Khlebnikov
Screenplay: Boris Khlebnikov, Aleksandr
Camera: Pavel Kostomarov
Cast: Aleksandr Iatsenko, Evgenii Sytyi,
Producer: Roman Borisevich, Aleksandr
Production: “Koktebel” Film Studio
The swirling river flowing steadily past a village at the beginning of the film promises a countryside drama ever moving ahead with its underwater rocks. The opening scene establishes the main conflict that is going to unfold throughout the rest of the film. A young entrepreneur, with a poetic name that bears a reference to Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich or Sasha, came to a nameless village to start his farming business. The regional authorities request that he sell the farm, offering him certain compensation for his expenses. During the conversation, which takes place in the office of the regional department, Sasha has to deal with local officials—serious men, one of whom sits with his legs on the table. It is clear that there is no joking with them.
The Russian flag on the table is another participant in the negotiations, setting the tone for the entire talk and creating a divide between the men and Sasha, as well as empowering the officials to represent the state. While they put Sasha into a difficult situation, they want to convince him that they are doing him a great favor. “Take the money or you will regret it later” resounds as an ominous prediction. Sasha agrees, since his farming business had not been working out well. It is a chance for him to get rid of the potato farm he is not interested in any more, return to the city, and live there peacefully with his beloved, Anna, who by coincidence also works in this department and witnesses the humiliating conversation.
Sasha agrees to sell his farm and announces his decision to the villagers working on the land. Since they have no other job, except for potato farming, they persuade Sasha not to relinquish his business. A small rebellion is taking place among the men, as they all stand for the preservation of the farm, eager to fight for it, even with guns. Sasha is inspired by the role of the local leader, he understands the people and takes their position. Sasha follows his conscience and views the villagers as an idealized community united by a common purpose. As a real hero of the people, he rejects the compensation, breaks off his relations with the officials, gets into debt, and begins building a hen-house.
The commitment of the villagers, however, lasts no more than a week. As Sasha and his men are working on the hen-house, the men first begin to ask Sasha for different favors: either money to cover a personal debt or free time for fishing. The situation becomes especially aggravated when one of the men openly requests his share of the compensation, as he wants to leave. The request for a non-existent compensation bewilders Sasha. One after another the villagers betray him, regretting that they have not taken the money, and they leave him alone with the corrupt regional authorities.
The situation is an epitome of the Russian national character. The spirit of unity and common purpose dissolves too quickly, while everyone is interested only in their personal benefit. The corrupt nature of
the state authorities, in the meantime, maintains the impossibility of any integrity in relations between the people and the state, the people and any leader in general. It is not only that the state representatives are corrupt, but the people are corrupt as well, so there is a vicious circle that Sasha is trying to break unsuccessfully. He is not supported even by his girlfriend.
The reality of a man who decided to play an honest game in a society that is not used to such rules, turns out to be horrifying. Sasha is too soft-hearted for the world and is not able to deal with it. Khlebnikov shows reality as it is, without even trying to provide a palliative for the pain. Sasha finds himself betrayed by the state authorities, his workers, his beloved, and his rich friend, who turns out to be the future owner of the ill-fated land.
There is no psychological depth to the film’s narrative. There is only a series of reports on actions and the ensuing results. The story is simple as it is, yet powerful and thought provoking. The social drama is laconic and concise, both visually and cinematically. The countryside surroundings tend to be grey and unattractive. With no non-diegetic music or sounds, the film aspires to reflect country life most accurately, without additional embellishments.
The recurring image of the river pessimistically suggests that nothing will ever change in Russian society, things will continue to happen as they do now because of the inherent qualities of the people. There is total indifference and an absence of efficient laws. The “long and happy life” ultimately turns out to be an ironic suggestion that Khlebnikov submits to his viewers for consideration.
Boris Khlebnikov was born in Moscow. After graduating from school, he studied biology for two years, and then entered the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (Department of Cinematography). He made his cinematic debut with Koktebel (2003), which he co-directed with Aleksei Popogrebskii. He is one the founders of the Kinoteatr.doc project. Khlebnikov is a creative producer at the TNT TV channel and also teaches at the Higher School of Journalism. He is best known for his films A Long and Happy Life (2013), which premiered at the 63rd International Film Festival in Berlin, and Arrhythmia (2017).
2018 The Day Before
2013 A Long and Happy Life
2012 Till Night Do Us Part
2009 Help Gone Mad
2009 Crush: 5 Love Stories (one episode)
2006 Free Floating
2003 Koktebel (co-directed with Aleksei
2000 The Sly Frog (short; co-directed with