Thursday, 1 December 2016

Paris-Dacha: "The Heritage of Love"

Erm, this is a really odd one. Fresh from exerting some influence over the recent US Presidential election - and well done to them - the Russian authorities have clearly decided to push westwards into UK cinemas. September's pretty yet tame and thoroughly rubberstamped Turgenev adaptation Two Women looks like the highest of art when set against The Heritage of Love, the fanciful pan-historical drama serving as the flagship title of this year's Russian Film Week. A vehicle for former Eurovision Song Contest winner Dima Bilan - or oft-shirtless former Eurovision winner Dima Bilan, to give him his full title - Yuri Vasilev's film operates on two timelines. In latter-day Paris, Bilan's shirt-forsaking mechanic attempts to ascertain the value of a classic car for an elderly princess, becoming first distracted by, then besotted with, a winsome blonde (Svetlana Ivanova); meanwhile, in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg - I know, I know, but it's where the car originated, OK? - Bilan shows up with beard and shirt as a handsome Army lieutenant courting a winsome high-society brunette (Ivanova again) prone to running coquettishly through rainstorms.

Ah, you say to yourself, it's the old reincarnation plot (emphasis on the car in the middle); then you remember just how laughable that plot tends to be. For much of the duration, you're left pondering which is the film's realities is the flimsier. The period business is stiffly unconvincing, all moustaches in military garb spouting dictums ("Victory in war is the best way to raise a patriotic spirit"); the contemporary scenes are flatly eccentric, returning us to a handful of "colourful" ex-pats motoring around the usual tourist traps. Vasilev's aiming for melodramatic sweep, but at a paltry 78 minutes, the result looks to have been either heavily cut for wider international consumption or just plain dashed off in a hurry, skimping on characterisation, political debate and buttons for Bilan's shirts: every craning camera arc, every swell of the orchestral score, comes over as a hopelessly empty gesture.

One suspects there may be reasons why the revolutionaries in the historical strand are portrayed as book-burning brutes and would-be rapists, led by a glowering baldy who looks as though he might have had a hand in the Rettendon Range Rover murders (and who literally snatches our hero's sweetheart away from him at one crucial juncture). The narrative structure feels, at least in this cut, like an explicit attempt to forge a parallel between today's Russia and the Russia of the past, and to underline an idea of a pre-Revolutionary golden age when the homeland was strong and rich, and everybody that mattered (read: the aristocracy) could afford fancy-ass jalopies to drive past - and, who knows, quite possibly over - the grovelling peasants. This stuff makes Downton look like Dziga Vertov-era Godard; would that all our propaganda could be so easily and sniggeringly dismissed.

The Heritage of Love is now playing in selected cinemas.

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