The Kite



Zmei aka Zmej : Russia 2002 : Alexei MURADOV : 75 mins

Essentially a wildly over-extended short, The Kite is such an unfortunate conjunction of ennui, schmaltz and miserabilism that its 75 minutes feel more like two hours. It doesn’t help that cinematographer Robert Filatov’s digital-video images are so muddy you’re constantly wondering when (or if) he’s going to clean his lens. But the real culprits are first-time director Muradov and his co-writer Yuri Solodov. Theirs is an ostentatiously bleak portrait of post-Soviet hardship and its impact on family and working life, concentrating on a prison-executioner father (Victor Solovyev) and his physically handicapped young son (Pavel Zolotilin) whose only source of pleasure comes from flying a kite with his dad.

This isn’t a project entirely devoid of film-making talent: one or two individual moments fleetingly recall Stalker (the dour father rising before dawn and getting ready for work) and even Eraserhead (the family lives in a noisy, grimy provincial town with much ambient noise of dog-barking, etc). But Muradov elects to operate on a grossly manipulative level that Tarkovsky and Lynch would never have considered: there must be, for instance, some clunkier metaphors for soaring freedom than a kite, but surely not many. What little dialogue there is consists of stiff, theatrical exchanges – as in last year’s even more insufferable snapshot of Russian poverty, Shoes From America. And, just like in that film, as soon as we see a noisy cockerel clucking around the house, it’s only a matter of time before it receives what is, in this genre, an obligatory kick.

While Muradov tells his simplistic tale with almost unbearable slowness, this build-up is in fact preferable to the supposedly heart-tugging climax in which two grindingly inevitable events occur: (A) the kid flies the kite, (B) the kid falls out of his wheelchair. This finale, while relatively action-packed, is very messily handled, giving way to a smart-ass little coda. But if you’ve got this far, stick around for the end titles which are by far the most skilfully handled aspect of the whole film – though perhaps this is mainly to do with the The Kite having finally run its grim and murky course.

8th March, 2003
(seen 29th January, Cinerama, Rotterdam – Rotterdam Film Festival)

For all the review from the Rotterdam Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young