Color, 90 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Marina Liubakova
Screenplay: Marina Liubakova, Denis Rodimin
Cinematography: Anton Drozdov
Music: Dato Evgenidze
Cast: Anna Begunova, Renata Litvinova, Ol'ga Onishchenko, Evgenii Serov, Aleksei Frandetti, Aleksandra Astakhova, Nikita Emshanov
Producer: Iurii Glotser, Ol'ga Vasil'eva, Pavel Lungin, Rima Shul'gina, Nadezhda Solov'eva
Production: Pavel Lungin Studio, BFG Media Production
After more than ten years of making documentaries and working for Russian television, Marina Liubakova directed Cruelty, her first full-length feature film. It was a success with film critics and audiences due to her ability to represent her characters, events, and landscapes meticulously. Pavel Lungin's producing skills and support, and the acting duo of the famous Renata Litvinova and a young actress from the Pushkin Theater, Anna Begunova, further increased interest in this film among Russian viewers. For their work in Cruelty, Litvinova received an award at the Moscow Premiere Film Festival and Begunova was acknowledged as the best young actress at the 37th Molodost' Film Festival in Kiev. By including a catchy song, "Maria," by the popular Russian band, Masha i medvedi, and music compositions by the Belarusian band, CherryVata, Liubakova has also drawn attention of a young generation of Russian viewers to her film.
Cruelty continues the tradition of many Russian films—such as Aleksei Balabanov's Brother (1997) and Brother 2 (2000), Valerii Todorovskii's The Land of the Deaf (1998), Petr Buslov's Bimmer (2002) and Bimmer 2 (2006)—to comment on the specifics of the market economy and the role of money in contemporary Russian society. Liubakova's film offers its audience a story of two women who have different temperaments, tastes, and moral values, and who represent different generations and social layers of Muscovite society.
A high-school graduate from a low income single-parent family, Vika (Begunova), and a blond lawyer, Zoia (Litvinova), with a good salary, a PhD degree, and her own apartment, are the narrative centers of the film. These two women not only live in different social and economic worlds but also look entirely different from each other. The distinguishing features of Litvinova's character include high heels that prevent her from walking or running freely and a large tote bag, which further hinders her movements. She looks very feminine. Zoia is a representative of an increasingly large group of women in contemporary Russia who choose career and financial stability over family and domestic chores. Despite her financial independence, she still relies on men, patiently waits for her married neighbor to pay her romantic visits, and does not drive because, as she states, she does not "need to drive a car if there are men for that."
Unlike Zoia, Vika does not have a stable income and has to live with her mother and a younger sister with whom she does not seem to have close relations. Her belief that men are not trustworthy results in violent, vengeful actions against Zoia's lover. Vika has a boyish look, and wears baggy pants, sports shoes, and hides her blonde hair under a knit hat. The only thing that brightens her life is an expensive professional camera, which she refuses to return to her ex-boyfriend. The ability of her camera to zoom into the everyday lives of people living in the new apartment building across from her house gives her an opportunity to "touch," to experience another, a better life. Liubakova endows the camera with special powers, not only organizing the images on the screen from its own point-of view, but also accompanying the visuals with the clicking sounds of the camera—a form of a voice-over narration. Vika is seduced by the images of people and families that her camera fragments and puts on display for her. However, the voyeuristic gaze of the camera also reveals the dark side of this polished, glossy life: infidelity, suicide, and loneliness.
Financially successful but lonely, Zoia becomes Vika's only friend and her partner in crime as a result of Vika's apparent desire to transform and free the blond lawyer from the constraints put upon her by a male dominated Russian society. The cruelty of Vika's actions consists in the fact that the real motive of her "good" deeds is her appetite for money and a luxurious life.
The script for the film was written by Liubakova and Denis Rodimin, who was also a screenwriter for Buslov's Bimmer and Bimmer 2. Nor surprisingly, Cruelty adopts one of Bimmer's main ideas: the only safe place in contemporary Russia is a village in the provinces. The second half of the film, when the two women steal Zoia's lover's car and go on a journey through peaceful provincial landscapes full of light and bright colors, borrows from the genre of the buddy film. However, the dark urban settings of the Russian metropolis, with its tall glass business centers, roads full of expensive cars, and streets packed with rushing people, become more attractive and thrilling, insofar as they represent the financial potential of a big city. In this world, where business and money dictate the rules, Zoia, a better-educated and more experienced person, will loose the battle to Vika, a representative of a new generation of young people who easily adapt to the changing economic conditions in contemporary Moscow and who are willing to sacrifice friendships, moral foundations, and even their expensive cameras on the way to affluence.
Marina Liubakova (1964- )
After graduating from the History Department of the Volgograd Pedagogical Institute, Liubakova studied at All-Russian Institute for Upgrading Qualifications in the Cinema Sector (VIPPK), under the supervision of Mikhail Tumanishvili. She worked as a project director on the First TV Channel and NTV, and as an assistant director on the Stolitsa Channel. Liubakova started making documentaries in 1994. Two of her documentaries were made for the TV cycle Islands and focusing on screenwriters Nadezhda Kozhushanaia and Valerii Frid.
2004 Dark Mu (documentary)
2002 Valerii Frid (TV documentary)
2001 Nadia Kozhushanaia (TV documentary)
1998 Not Seeing Each Other (documentary)
1996 Dead Animal
1995 A Chase (TV film)
1994 The Icon-Painter (documentary)