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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)




Olga Dykhovichnaya (Marina) Sergei Borisov (Andrei)

This was indeed the welcome surprise of the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) this year. Newcomer Director/Writer/Producer Angelina Nikonova and Writer/Producer/Actress Olga Dykhovichnaya (Marina) graced the festival with their presence in its final days to attend the Q and A screening of their film TWILIGHT PORTRAIT (‘Portret V Sumerkakh’, 2011) and the award ceremony at the end. Little did these passionate Russian Indie filmmakers know they would walk away from the festival with the GOLDEN PUFFIN Discovery Award.

When I met Angelina and Olga at a dinner a few nights before, I had not yet seen their film. I asked Angelina to tell me what she could in a few words on the film's premise. Angelina and Olga replied that the film was about many things, so many that it was impossible to describe in a few words without tainting it somehow. Both women agreed finally that while the film was about modern day Russia, sex, violence, relationships and a polluted collective psychology, mostly the film deals with many layers and in a word, it’s about “LOVE”. Angelina explained that she believes the only thing in life that heals all things, the only answer to all complex situations is “Love”. She went on to describe how pleased she was that the audience reviews since their world premier in Venice just three weeks ago and their North American reviews in Toronto two weeks before Reykjavik had been positive and well received. According to both Angelina and Olga, this was not an easy film to make. In fact, it was a very independent situation filmed on a shoestring budget with the film’s Writer/Producer, Olga Dykhovichnaya, playing the lead role of Marina.

TWILIGHT PORTRAIT was made on digital camera in a rough realism style and has no musical score but the lack in the film works in its favor to give taste to the wanting situation of a socially suffering and struggling new Russia. I couldn't help but be reminded of Italian Neo Realism style and also that of Brazil's Cinema Novo. If Hollywood studios and millions of dollars could buy such powerful and wholesome writing and acting with so much presence and verisimilitude, then there really would be another Hollywood hegemony in film. But thankfully the organic arts deliver where Hollywood cannot and this film is a perfect example. Further, let the Hollywood star system and its number driven search for ‘name’ actors find a cast more riveting and stunning as this couple Marina (Olga Dykhovichnaya) and Andrei (Sergei Borisov)!

I saw the film on the last night of the festival and was left speechless. It is not a perfect film but it is arresting, provocative and moving. Visually, it is rough realism, which gives the film little in visual aesthetic quality but the superb acting and the presence of the main cast is so honest and magnetic that they make up for any lack, and the writing is so strong that the film hangs on it like tough skin on strong bones. When director Angelina Nikonova received the award on the closing night of the 8th RIFF festival, the one to hand her the award was Ulrich Thomsen, one of the actors from Thomas Vinterberg’s film THE CELIBRATION (1998) which is blatantly referenced to in TWILIGHT PORTRAIT during a birthday celebration. I have mixed feelings about this scene, however, and question its relevance in the film. It’s almost as if this scene takes away from the director’s originality and unique voice which holds itself expertly and efficaciously throughout the rest of the film.

I saw the film in a group and there was mixed feeling among the viewers. Some saw only the film’s banality (there is a lot of sex) and some just didn’t get it and referred to it as ‘strange’ but none of these viewers deemed it bad. It is an honest film and in my opinion it's a film that had to be made. It is contemporary Russia in all its grittiness and ugly truths, Russia in the nude with all her clothes off after the rape of decades of shady politics and centuries of insurmountable patriarchy. Mother Russia in the raw, whose people have abused each other so much that hate and little value for life have become a mode of survival in the face of an unrelenting social hardship and seemingly hopeless rat race towards nothing. Men rape their women, fathers beat their sons and daughters, police rape and steal from those they should protect, government is as present for its citizens as heat is in a Russian winter, the food and music the whole country seems to be digesting is cheap and trashy (we see this from the repeated scenes of our main characters frequenting what appears to be a terrible restaurant serving only shitty food and even shittier music) and its high time for change. But how will this change come about and who is going to start?

When Marina is raped by police officers it is at a time in her life when her personal life is falling to pieces. So where can she go for comfort? Her husband is a dud and her job going nowhere. She begins to frequent the neighborhood where she was raped and comes face to face with one of her three assaulters, the most handsome one of course, Andrei (Sergei Borisov). She begins to follow him with a broken bottle and we think (and hope) she will either kill him or dismember him for his crime (being an abusive rapist cop after all). She comes face to face with him and the moment arrives for her to take her revenge. But something turns inside of her and she stops. Instead of attacking him, she goes down on him and this becomes the turning point from a movie of victimization to taking control. How does she take control? Ill leave it to you to find out but I can say that it is in a way one would never expect, the most inconceivable way to change a situation of hatred and violence to compassion and understanding- through lovemaking instead of beating, through words of love instead of words of hate, through self-reflection instead of projected blame. As Angelina Nikonova says herself, ‘this is a film about love’. So I advise you to sit back, open your mind and make your own impressions of love seen through this refreshing and provocative point of view.


Written by Vanessa McMahon, October 03, 2011

Director Angelina Nikonova


photo by Vanessa McMahon


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