Nothing Personal

Russia, 2007
Color, 94 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Larisa Sadilova
Screenplay: Larisa Sadilova
Cinematography: Dobrynia Morgachev, Dmitrii Mishin
Art Direction: Nigmat Dzhuraev
Music: Abduraim Charyev
Cast: Valerii Barinov, Zoia Kaidanovskaia, Mariia Leonova, Natal'ia Kochetova, Aleksandr Kliukvin, Shukhrat Ergashev
Producer: Rustam Akhadov
Production: Arsi-Film, with the assistance of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema

"This is illegal trespassing into somebody else's property, up to three years in prison." Private detective Zimin (Valerii Barinov) quotes the law ritualistically as he contemplates a proposed contract to observe a given target. In her fourth feature film, Nothing Personal (2007), Larisa Sadilova crafts a narrative around the theme of surveillance, in a gesture implying that the illegality of this intrusion on private lives is less a matter of the law caring about rights than of personal morality, which is lacking, or plays of power, which abound.

Surveillance immediately assumes importance on multiple levels in Nothing Personal, beginning within the surveilling community itself, as Zimin's boss (Shukhrat Ergashev) listens in on the negotiations between Zimin and the unidentified client's representative in the introductory scene. This internal monitoring establishes the essential motive of surveillance: control and power. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the office eavesdropping conducted by Zimin's boss is connected to the power he has over the office "family." Whether the power of the gaze derives from the power granted by his position or vice versa is immaterial as they are absolutely connected.

Zimin's surveillance of the desolate life of the lonely pharmacist Irina (Zoia Kaidanovskaia) allows him to manipulate and control her as he progressively transgresses one boundary after another. Having accepted a contract strictly limited to night-time observation, he all the same eventually seeks out face-to-face meetings with her, in which he presents himself as an avuncular figure, promising order in Irina's emotionally chaotic life. In such a context, even his threats of senseless violence become seductive in what is perhaps a blunt reference to the State.

The power a detective can gain through surveillance is sobering, but as striking is the systematic deprivation of that power for the viewer, whose perspective on the lives of Zimin's targets is completely limited to that of Zimin and his cameras. The film periodically shifts to what is nominally Irina's point of view, signaling this fact by shifting from the black-and-white of Zimin's screen to color, but the viewer remains trapped by the hidden cameras, able to zoom in and out, but incapable of looking anywhere other than where Zimin has directed. Voyeuristic sensations such as titillation or guilt become absent in all practicality, leaving the viewer with only Zimin's impassive view on his work.

Yet Zimin's consummately professional attitude towards his work does not appear to square with his actions. Initially, he merely indulges his own curiosity about why Irina could possibly be of interest to his client. As theories about drug trafficking noiselessly pass to the wayside, however, and as Zimin learns the true objective of the client, he watches Irina ever more intently. The viewer can even speculate that he has become enamored of the young woman, and that his emotions compel him to meet and court her, even if his age and masculinity prevent him from expressing himself directly, much as he has difficulty expressing affection towards his wife. Yet, given Zimin's final treatment of Irina, the theme of power, and Sadilova's numerous allusions, it is more probable that Zimin has simply become bored with his comfortable family life. Thus, he ambivalently toys with his fantasies about Irina merely as a means of escaping this boredom, and his impulse to watch and control her grows stronger as this ambivalence intensifies to internal conflict. He finally decides not to abandon his stagnating life and, having reached a resolution for his own banal conflict of interests, Zimin freely ignores the unfortunate consequences of using and discarding Irina as if she were an object.

Nothing Personal has thus far won the FIPRESCI award at the 29th annual Moscow International Film Festival and made its European debut at Rotterdam's International Film Festival 2008.

Stills courtesy of ARSI Film

Larisa Sadilova (1963- )

Sadilova graduated from the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK) in 1982. Her directorial debut, Happy Birthday! (1988) was the cinematic event of the year in Russia; it and each of her succeeding films have gained international attention. In addition to her work as scriptwriter and director, Sadilova has acted in films, beginning in Gerasimov's Lev Tolstoi (1984).

Filmography as director:

2007 Nothing Personal
2005 Needing a Nanny
2002 With Love, Lilly
1998 Happy Birthday!

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