Russia, 2009
Color, 88 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Vasilii Sigarev
Screenplay: Vasilii Sigarev
Director of Photography: Aleksei Arsent’ev
Art Direction: Liudmila Diupina
Cast: Polina Pluchek, Iana Troianova, Natal'ia Bakhareva, Irina Simanova, Svetlana Lapteva, Ivan Seliugin, Larissa Komalenkova, Viacheslav Solovichenko
Producer: Roman Borisevich
Production: “Koktebel” Studio

A directing debut by award-winning playwright Vasilii Sigarev, Wolfy focuses on the traumatic relationship between a mother and her daughter. Early in the film, a seven-year-old girl (Polina Pluchek) breaks a jar of milk over the head of her mother’s violent lover. This episode suggests the tradition of chernukha, recalling the films of the early 1990s, with its presentation of the unrelenting darkness of everyday reality. This scene, however, acquires unexpected lyricism when, alone in the room, the girl plays with the specks of blood in the puddle of milk. The combination of lyricism with the unmitigated harshness of existence is characteristic of the film as a whole. While the film does not focus on contemporary social problems, the disintegration of society is indicated by the mangled language, personal alienation, and the disappearance of family ties. However, even the broken language of its protagonists at times acquires lyrical and incantational qualities. The film’s lyricism is also enhanced by the soothing voiceover of the narrator and the indirect camera shots.

Wolfy begins dramatically with policemen pursuing a pregnant woman across a snow-covered field. She is finally captured, and gives birth to a daughter. Imprisoned for jealousy-induced homicide, the mother meets her daughter seven years later. To the girl, brought up by her grandmother in the bleak outskirts of a provincial town, the mother appears extremely beautiful and alluring, and inspires unconditional love. The girl’s obsessive attachment to her mother is contrasted to the mother’s absolute indifference to her, punctuated by occasional abuse.

Yet the girl’s unconditional love is not presented in a sentimental way. In the film, love is inseparable from violence and ultimately death. Thus, the girl suffocates a hedgehog that the mother gives her as a present because she feels that the present cannot compensate for the mother’s absence. To assuage her feelings of guilt, the girl puts the hedgehog’s corpse under a train and starts throwing stones at the train, as if it had been the perpetrator of the violence. The girl expresses her love primarily through aggression. She constantly threatens to use violence against the mother’s numerous lovers, who, she believes, steal her mother’s affection.

The title of the film, Volchok, is Russian for a spinning top toy, which the mother gives to her daughter as a present upon her return. The word also means “wolf-cub” or “wolfy.” Based on this homonymous connection between the words, the mother constructs a story, in which her daughter is a foundling werewolf child and explains that the present was a hint at the girl’s animal origin. She relates that she found the child in a sack in a cemetery, and that she was covered with fur. Ironically, this pathological tale temporarily frees the girl from her mother’s spell. She explains: “I then started going to the cemetery as if trying to find myself.” She befriends a drowned boy by talking to his picture. Telling the boy the invented tale of her life, the girl for the first time seems genuinely happy and eloquent. However, this search for the free self is cut short when the mother accuses the dead boy of taking away the girl’s dying grandmother.

The mother disappears again for several years: promising to take her to some beautiful place in the South, she instead abandons her at a train station. The girl then lives with her aunt. Even though everyone believes that the mother has died, the girl feels that she is alive and will come back. The mother’s return is again destructive. While less beautiful and alluring, the mother is unrepentant and continues to abuse her daughter psychologically. But this time the girl realizes that nothing binds them together. Thus, she observes: “What did we talk about? I couldn’t remember anything. We never spoke. All our conversations were empty and useless. Or we were simply silent.” Nevertheless, she still wants to connect with her mother and contemplates their life together: “I wanted to tell her so much, but I could not. For some reason. What will we talk about now? How shall we live?” In a final and tragic effort, she again tries to stop her mother from leaving. The bind between the mother and daughter is suggested by the fact that the voiceover relating the daughter’s story is narrated by Iana Troianova, the actress who also plays the mother.

Due to the film’s subject matter—the relationship between a child and her mother—psychoanalytical theories seem especially useful for the film’s interpretation. The film can illustrate such Freudian notions as the connection between love (Eros) and death (Thanatos), the relationship between the familiar and the uncanny, and the trauma of the primal scene. Julia Kristeva’s notion of abjection, connected to the maternal as both representative of the fear of death and of the threat to identity boundaries, seems even more applicable here. However, the film complicates this interpretation by presenting the daughter’s love not as a child’s unambiguous love for her mother, but as a result of the mother’s beauty: “she was beautiful, cheerful and smelt nicely of a restaurant train car, and I fell in love with her,” the girl says. Thus, it is the mother’s stunning appearance and her difference from the bleak surroundings of a working-class town that trigger the daughter’s obsessive attraction. The reflection on beauty as a destructive force has a long tradition in Russian culture. While hardly an accurate presentation of child’s psychology, the film probes the existential questions of the nature of love, personal freedom, the power of beauty, and the search for identity.

Vasilii Sigarev (1977- ):

Born in Verkhniaia Salda, in the Ural region, Sigarev graduated from the Ekaterinburg Theater Institute in 2002, where he studied in the department of dramaturgy under Nikolai Koliada. His plays earned such prizes as the Debut, Anti-Booker, Eureka, New Style, and Evening Standard awards. Wolfy is his cinematic debut and has won many prizes at art-house festivals, such as Best Film at the Kinotavr Film Festival, special mention by FICC at Karlovy Vary, Best International Film at the Zurich Film Festival, and first prizes at the Douro Film Harvest (Portugal)and Kunst Film Biennale (Germany).

2009 Wolfy

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