Russia, 2009
Color, 75 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Ivan Vyrypaev
Screenplay: Ivan Vyrypaev
Cinematography: Andrei Naidenov
Art Direction: Margarita Ablaeva
Music: Aidar Gainullin, Sergei Efremenko, Oleg Kostrov, Vitalii Lapin, Aleksandr Lushin, Andrei Samsonov
Sound: Roman Khokhlov
Cast: Karolina Gruszka, Aleksei Filimonov
Producers: Vadim Goriainov, Leonid Lebedev, Valerii Todorovskii
Production: Krasnaia strela with support from the Ministry of Culture, Russian Federation
Awards: Best Director of a Miniseries and Best Music at Kinotavr (2009); Special Jury Award at “Moscow Premiere” Film Festival (2009)

Ivan Vyrypaev has described Oxygen as a “rap parable” (“pritcha v stile rep”). This musical metaphor acts as the organizing principal for the film: it is a concept album with ten “tracks” (that is, vignettes in the style of music videos) and two bonus features. These episodes, set to music and narrated by “rappers” in a studio, tell the boy-meets-girl love story between Sasha from Moscow (Karolina Gruszka) and Sasha from the village of Serpukhov (Aleksei Filimonov). Both are unhappily married to spouses who are “not and cannot be oxygen.” Uxoricide, international travel (to Rome, London, Damascus and Hong Kong) and a. police chase ending in death do little to spice up the predictable storyline, which gives enough breathing room for experimentation with the portrayal of the events.

As with rap music itself, which also espouses trite themes, delivery and performativity take precedence over content. Shots in Oxygen alternate between visual representations of the romance and footage of the two “rappers,” also played by Gruszka and Filimonov, verbally recounting the story in a studio. Filimonov fulfills the stereotype of the belligerent hip-hop artist as he stands in front of the microphone, bald in a fur coat, aggressively delivering his unrhymed lyrical narrative of the events as he recalls them. In contrast, Gruszka, with her Polish accent, delivers her equally unrhymed yet lyrical lines sitting-down, but with greater emotional investment in the tale. In addition to these two accounts of the story, there is the third version: the visual depiction of the love story.

The metaphor with rap extends beyond the partitioning of the narrative. A defining feature of hip-hop music is its penchant for sampling sound bites and music to produce a finished work of art. In other words, it defines itself through the inclusion of unexpected elements, such as dialogue, refrains from recognizable songs, startling noises (gunshots, sirens, etc.), lyrical expression, and guest artists who bring their own sampling into the mix. Oxygen re-appropriates these characteristic traits to film in several ways. It merges the cinematic styles of music video, documentary, home video, and computer animation―both as independent elements and in combination with live action. The camerawork blends panning and moving shots; split screens; in-camera and post-production tricks; and black-and-white, negative and color shots. Frames are sped up, slowed down, or appear at normal speed. In addition to this property of inclusion, there are rhythmic repetitions of the same image in the film, reminiscent of a disc jockey scratching vinyl.

Not just images reoccur, however: entire scenes are recast later in the film. The most striking example of this transpires at the beginning and end of the film when Sasha from Serpukhov is shown just after he has killed his wife. Covered in blood, he performs a celebratory dance in his kitchen. In the first rendering, a range of camera techniques (high- and low-angle shots, close-ups, and slow motion sequences) exhibit the variety of Sasha’s dancing styles. His movements suggest that he is simultaneously listening to rock, punk, hip-hop, traditional folk, and even surf music as he gyrates and flings dishes on the floor. These images of Sasha are interspersed with breakdancing footage. Although the latter is traditionally associated with hip-hop, Sasha’s tendency to draw from various types of dance more closely exhibits hip-hop’s characteristic inclusion. This episode gets reconfigured in the final bonus feature, when a single worm’s-eye view depicts Sasha knocking dishes to the ground and then dancing on them—first forward in time in slow motion, then backwards in time, also in slow motion. The repetition of this scene frames the narrative, and the playing of footage in reverse deemphasizes the resolution of the storyline.

The principles of inclusion and repetition extend beyond the visual. The narrators’ language stresses key phrases through reiteration, spanning from the biblical to the everyday to the vulgar. Although the musical tracks remain constant within each vignette and function as a unifying element, they include a variety of musical samplings.

The title, Oxygen, is repeated, throughout the film, underlining its linguistic importance as both the productive and destructive catalyst operating within the storyline. It is productive insofar as human beings need oxygen (that is, true love) to survive, and it is destructive insofar as the need for it prompts irrational and violent action. An etymology of the Russian word, kislorod, reveals a deeper layering to the title. Kislo denotes sour and rod refers to kinship. Therefore, in combination these roots could be construed to render the concept of a familial relationship gone bad. Ironically, the spouses, who are “not and cannot be kislorod,” end up embodying this very concept.

Through the incorporation of different methods of storytelling, including male and female narration, visual depiction and on-screen running text, Oxygen presents a disjointed, non-chronological, and even disconnected version of a predictable love story. Rather than advocating one specific creative method, the movie contextualizes each individual account of the tale in order to redefine the notion of a contemporary cinematic experience.

Ivan Vyrypaev (1974- ):

Born in Irkutsk, Ivan Vyrypaev finished the actors division of the Irkutsk theatrical school in 1995. In 1998 he established the theater-studio “Prostranstvo igry” in Irkutsk. In 2005 his play Oxygen is staged for the first time. He directed his first feature-length film Euphoria in 2006. Oxygen is Vyrypaev’s second feature-length film.

Director and screenwriter:
2009 Oxygen
2009 Brief Moments, short in almanac film Crush: 5 Love Stories
2006 Euphoria

2008 Antonina Looked Back
2007 The Best of Times
2006 Bunker
2006 Bimmer 2
2003 The Other District

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