Magnetic Storms

[Магнитные Бури]

Russia, 2003
Color, 93 minutes
Russian, with English subtitles
Director: Vadim Abdrashitov
Script: Aleksandr Mindadze
Cinematography: Iuri Shaigardanov
Cast: Maksim Averin, Viktoriia Tolstoganova, Liubava Aristarkhova, Boris Shuvalov, Rushana Ziafitdinova
Producer: Aleksandr Potemkin

Magnetic Storms operates on the polarization of and disjuncture between the individual and the collective, on the one hand, and wakefulness and unconsciousness, on the other. The main character, Valera, is driven by an impulsive and inexplicable sense of responsibility to participate in acts of mass violence with his coworkers from the factory. He consistently forfeits his private obligations to his wife and domestic stability in exchange for membership in the worker collective. The value and purpose of Valera's collective is ambiguous, however. Workers converge to battle in support of either Markin or Savchuk, the two men vying for private ownership of the factory, but the workers' actions can by no reasoning have an impact on the outcome of the sale of shares. The implicit comment is that the politics of the factory determine the workers' behavior, rendering the workers immediately useless as a collective power.

Each wave of violence builds like a storm, complete with the beating of footsteps that sound like rain, but these scenes are generally anticlimactic. Injuries are superficial or not incurred at all. After the fighting breaks into Valera's home and turns it upside down, he and Marina calmly make a halfhearted effort to clean up. When the couple is accosted in the back of a truck by some workers, it appears as though Marina will be raped, but she is instead tossed to the side of the road. In fact, there is no time for her to be injured, for in the next instant she sets off chasing Valera who once again is running with no apparent destination.

Moments of intense action are followed by scenes of nearly total inaction. Valera is forever awakening after a night of conflict, calling into question the reality of the preceding events: was it only a dream? How can reality take such an irreconcilably irrational form? The film leaves these questions unresolved. The dream of a bright day ushering cheerful workers to the factory whose ownership has finally been determined replaces the nightmare of the endless violence and division of the workers. Valera also finds a surreal resolution to his troubled personal affairs overnight. When Marina leaves him for Moscow with her sister, the working-minded Tat'iana steps in to restore order to his home and mediate his attention to work, not to mention literally saving his life. The camera has likewise accommodated the shift. Scenes that were predominantly jolting and fractured, communicating the workers' muddled conflicts, become smooth by the film's end, with more long and longer-duration shots. The individual has been replaced by the whole, the unacceptable by the ideal.

Just whose ideal it is remains unclarified. Valera's beautiful, loving wife is presumably working as a prostitute. His generous and magical friend, Stepa, a hunter and the only truly spiritual character in the film, has been killed. Valera's personal and professional lives seem to have reached equilibrium in the final scene, but there is eerily no trace of either an individual or collective memory of the preceding events. Is the bright future into which the workers march merely another illusion, a waking dream? Or, is it a delusion that haphazardly conceals an ugly past waiting to resurface?

Vadim Abdrashitov (1945- ) and Aleksandr Mindadze (1949-)

The directing-scriptwriting team has made 11 films together. Abdrashitov graduated in 1967 from the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology before enrolling in The State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK), where he studied under Mikhail Romm and Lev Kulidzhanov. He graduated in 1974 having completed his diploma film, Stop Potapov (1973). Mindadze received a diploma from the scriptwriting department at VGIK in 1971. Apart from his work with Abdrashitov, he has completed three scripts: Spring Call-Up [Vesenii prizyv] (1976) and Limit of Desires [Predel zhelanii] (1982), which were both directed by Pavel Liubimov; and Quiet Investigation [Tikhoe sledstvie] (1986), directed by Aleksandr Pashovkin.

Filmography:

1973 A Report from the Asphalt [Reportazhs asfal'ta] Course project.
1973 Stop Potapov [Ostanovite Potapova] Diploma film.
1976 Speech for the Defense [Slovo dlia zashchity]
1978 The Turn [Povorot]
1980 Fox Hunting [Okhota na lis]
1982 The Train Stopped [Ostanovilsia poezd]
1984 Parade of the Planets [Parad planet]
1986 Pliumbum, or A Dangerous Game [Pliumbum, ili Opasnaia igra]
1988 The Servant [Sluga]
1991 The Armavir [Armavir]
1995 Play for a Passenger [P'esa dlia passazhira]
1997 Time of the Dancer [Vremia tantsora]
2003 Magnetic Storms [Magnitnye buri]

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