Mars 

[Марс]
Russia, 2004
Color, 100 min
Russian with English subtitles
Direction and script: Anna Melikian
Cinematography: Oleg Lukichev
Production design: Ul'iana Riabova
Music: Aleksei Aigi
With: Gosha Kutsenko, Nana Kiknadze, Artur Smol'ianinov, Evgeniia Dobrovol'skaia, Elena Morozova, Nadia Kamenkovich, Iana Esipovich
Production: Central Partnership; Slon Studio, with support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation

Financed by one of Russia's largest distribution companies, Central Partnership, Anna Melikian's feature debut is lavish, playful, and conspicuously derivative. A boxer from Moscow, Boris (Antikiller's Gosha Kutsenko), gets off the train at the provincial town of Mars, named for the author of the "Communist Manifesto" but missing the letter "k" on the train station logo. The Mar(k)s pun is essential for the film's style, which shifts between absurd comedy and melodrama, between Karen Shakhnazarov's City Zero (1989) and the colorful fantasies of Amélie. Supersized plush animals peek into the traincar windows, peddled by the town's inhabitants, whose salary is paid in this "soft currency."

The camera, circling the gigantic, cellophane-wrapped statue of Lenin, recalls Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935). Boris meets characters who have come straight out of Dmitrii Astrakhan's nostalgic reveries: a precocious, scheming girl and her mother, both dreaming of a French suitor; a young idealist, Grigorii, in love with an ethereal librarian Greta (played by "Miss Tbilisi," Nana Kiknadze), whose daily routine includes watching Casablanca in the local movie theater; and a barmaid fantasizing about a sexual encounter with Vladimir Putin. This cultural mêlée is overlaid with a haunting soundtrack by Aleksei Aigi (who wrote the music for Valerii Todorovskii's Land of the Deaf [1997]) and a ballad, written and performed by Gosha Kutsenko himself.

Mars has a commendably simple plot, which seems to have been borrowed from Lermontov's "Taman'": a jaded visitor from the "capital" comes and leaves, disrupting "the peaceful life" of a Crimean town. At the heart of this plot, however, is the Holy Trinity of post-Soviet cinema: dream, desire, and displacement. Everyone wants to escape her or his predicament. Mar(k)tians dream of abandoning the provincial paradise and getting to Moscow (or even better, to Paris or New York), while Boris is on the run from Moscow, from his boxing career, and from his mobster boss. In contrast to the plethora of recent Russian films about the (post)-imperial identity crisis, Mars is not nostalgic. Dislocation and yearning are not pitched against any temporal, spatial, or cultural "norm." The visual series of the film largely consists of dream sequences, film inserts, flashbacks and flash-forwards. With its somewhat somnambular characters, Mars points to social and individual psychosis, but renders it as an aberration "without a cause."

Unlike her teacher's use of head injury as a psycho-political metaphor (see Sergei Solov'ev's Tender Age [2000]), Melikian's central metaphor is color blindness, introduced at the beginning of the film. For instance, Boris' violent flashbacks to skull-crushing boxing matches are shot in black-and-white, contrasting sharply with the brightly hued sequences in Mars. In an interview, Melikian remarks that she belongs to a generation of "wounded people," incapable of enjoying simple things. If the plush fantasy of the first half of the film provides both the mise-en-scène and the visual therapy for this aberration, the second half turns the grotesque comedy into a melodrama. At the film's end Greta, who had committed suicide, is resurrected by Grigorii's power of love ... and art: Greta floats through the empty town as a cinematic version of Marc Chagall's flying figures, escaping reality.

  


Anna Melikian

Born in 1976 in Baku (Azerbaijan), Anna Melikian graduated from Sergei Solov'ev and Valerii Rubinchik's workshop at the State Filmmaking Institute (VGIK) in 2002. While a student, she made several shorts that won recognition at Russian and international film festivals. Her 2000 short Poste Restante received a Grand Prix at the St. Anna student film festival. Melikian's diploma work Contrabass secured her a grant from Goskino. Melikian also worked for television, in particular on the program Travel Guide for Channel TV-Tsentr.

Mars is Melikian's feature debut, for which she also wrote the script. The film received the Special Producers' award at the Open Film Festival Kinoshock in 2004 and was screened in the Panorama program at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2005.


Filmography:

1997 Andante (short)
1999 Let's Fly (short)
2000 Poste Restante (short)
2002 Contrabass (diploma film)
2004 Mars

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