Russia, 2004
Color, 126 minutes
Russian with English subtitles

Director: Il'ia Khrzhanovskii
Script: Vladimir Sorokin
Cinematography: Alisher
Khamidkhodzhaev, Aleksandr Ilkhovskii,
Shandor Berkeshi
Art Director: Shavkat Abdusalamov
Sound: Kirill Vasilenko
Cast: Marina Vovchenko, Irina Vovchenko, Svetlana Vovchenko, Sergei Shnurov, Iuri Laguta, Kostantin Murzenko, Aleksei Khvostenko, Anatolii Adoskin
Producer: Elena Iatsura
Production: Filmocom and Elena Iatsura, with Support from the Film Department of the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Hubert Bals Foundation

Oleg (a meat merchant), Marina (a prostitute), and "simply Volodia" (a piano tuner) drop into an all-night bar in Moscow, where they are served by a narcoleptic bartender (three plus one is four) while each regales the others with made-up biographies. Oleg claims to work in President Putin's administration, supplying him with bottled water and his wife with liquor; Marina passes herself off as a marketing executive; and "simply Volodia"—played by Sergei Shnurov, the infamous lead singer of the rock group Leningrad—as a geneticist who clones twins (two times two makes four, again) in a laboratory that has been engaged in these experiments since the days of Stalin. After they separate, these fantasy realities, especially Volodia's, begin to dominate their everyday lives.

The film was four years in the production and post-production processes. And "four," it turns out, is the concealed and mysterious number that rules the universe. Fours run though 4: the four dogs of the opening scene, the four drills that scare them away and the four snow removal trucks that sweep through the streets; the four "round (cloned) piglets" that Oleg encounters in a restaurant; the four sisters; the four dolls—with faces made from bread chewed by the old and toothless, witch-like hags of an impoverished and isolated provincial village—that are left behind after the death of one of the sisters.

The surviving "three sisters" (another of scriptwriter Vladimir Sorokin's cinematic allusions to Chekhov)—played by the Vovchenko triplets, non-actresses whom director Khrzhanovskii found working in a Moscow strip-club—return to the village to bury their murdered sister-prostitute just as Volodia is arrested and jailed as a serial killer. Marina's journey to the village is a voyage through hell: she passes through a "Russia" that cannot be distinguished from a wasteland, encountering people who are human only in name. As the reviewer in The New York Times has pointed out, rarely has a film portrayed such a disgusting view of humans, especially when they are in the presence of food.

The film is an aggressive assault on viewers' sensibilities: the glittery opening images of Moscow's middle-class respectability quickly give way to (beautifully composed) graphic depictions of decay, decrepitude, and the basest animal instincts. At the same time, the film's soundtrack is unrelenting: with not a single note of music, sound consists exclusively of background noises and dialogs that are almost always deviant and frequently profane, especially when spoken by the old, breast-baring women.

Not surprisingly, the Russian Ministry of Culture went on record criticizing the film for its obsession with "dirty language and inclusion of disgusting scenes," demanding that more than 40 minutes be cut before it authorized commercial release. Implicit in this outburst was not just another attack on scriptwriter Sorokin (who has been hounded for pornography and obscenity charges by the pro-Putin morality movement Moving Together, most recently for his libretto to a new opera—also about cloning—Rosenthal's Children), but rather because of the film's disrespectful attitude towards Putin's wife and the assertion that the Russian government continues to make use of penal battalions, now in the war in the Chechen war. Khrzhanovskii's refusal to cut or re-edit the film ensured that it has been seen by virtually no one in Russia. It has been screened out of competition at the Venice International Film Festival (2004); at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (2005), where it won one of the Tiger Awards for Best Film; and two weeks ago at the fourth TriBeCa Festival in New York. A first screening was scheduled at Moscow's House of Cinema at the end of April.


Il'ia Khrzhanovskii

Il'ia Khrzhanovskii (born 1975) is the son of one of Russia's greatest living animation filmmakers, Andrei Khrzhanovskii. He graduated from the Directing Department of the State Institute for Filmmaking in 1998 (Marlen Khutsiev's workshop) and has worked as a producer and director. 4 is his debut feature film.


1998 The Stop, short (co-directed with Artem Mikhalkov)
2004 Winter Spring (producer; directed by Aleskandr Zel'dovich), short
2004 4

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