Waggish

Ilya Khrzhanovsky: 4 (Chetyre)

The allegorical idea of the movie is simple: how we treat each other like meat, and how we procreate to generate more meat to exploit. Cloning, piles of rag dolls, dogs, and large warehouses of frozen meat are some of the ways it expresses it. Writer Vladimir Sorokin, who also used clones in his novel Blue Lard (as well as the conceit of Khrushchev and Stalin having sex) , is a superior scenarist, and Khrzhanovsky directs his grotesqueries with disjointed flare. Incidental noises are painfully amplified, camera movement is shaky, and colors are all wrong. It’s not profound, but it’s one of the most inventive and exuberant depictions of nihilism in recent years (though it ends with a somewhat anomalous, albeit hopeless, affirmation of individuality).

Khrzhanovsky is so aggressively creative that I would trust him to adapt a Celine novel; I think his visual–and moreover, his physical–senses would mesh. Moreover, Khrzhanovsky never overdoes it. There is never the sense that he is merely trying to shock or induce squirms, as with so much recent J- and K-horror and exploitation panderers like Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke. It all fits together, and for such a gonzo movie, it’s uncharacteristically controlled.

But the reason for this entry is that Khrzhanovsky and Sorokin have planted many references to Andrei Tarkovsky in the film. Here are the four big ones I caught:

  • A careening, high-speed car ride through partly-lit tunnels, shot from the dashboard. (The hypnotic, silent car/train ride in Solaris, shot from the same perspective. 
  • Long scenes in damp subterranean rooms. (The various “trapped” rooms in Stalker, filled with water.
  • After the doll-maker daughter dies, her mentally deficient boyfriend announces, “I know the secret!” of how to make the faces for the dolls out of stale bread chewed by older, damaged clone women. (The bellmaker’s son in Andrei Rublev announces that he knows his dead father’s secret of how to cast the bell without it breaking.)
  • The dolls go up in flames at the end as a gesture of disgust with humanity and the world. (The old man’s conflagration of his earthly possessions at the end of The Sacrifice.)

Whether the two mean to create a gospel of flesh to contrast with Tarkovsky’s spiritual leanings, or if they are merely parodying him, the scenes are effective revisions. They underscore how carefully 4 was assembled despite all surface indications to the contrary. Sorokin used the technique in Blue Lard as well, in which he created imitation passages of various Russian writers ostensibly written by their clones. I suspect it indicates some latent idealism in Sorokin: a thread of reverence for artistic achievement, even as he condemns its constant exploitation. (The futurists, Mayakovsky especially, and Daniil Kharms are antecedents.)

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