IN THE DARK (Sergei Dvortsevoy, 2004)

From Russia, Finland and the United Kingdom, V temnote was the final documentary by Sergei Dvortsevoy, who abandoned nonfictional cinema because (among other reasons) he came to feel he was exploiting the misery of the fellow humans whose lives he studied. This highly regarded film, 41 minutes long, revolves around an elderly man who longs for a time that has passed, and the values that attached themselves to that earlier time, both of which validated his existence, providing him with a place in the larger scheme of things. Now blind, he cannot see that the world that once was is no more; as a consequence, he keeps trying to re-connect with it. He wants others to allow him to do this by allowing him to connect with them. But they have little time for him—and they dismiss him in whatever time they have.
     It is winter. The man lives with an adorable white cat in a small, jam-packed apartment in a high-rise in the Moscow suburbs. Prior to a coda in spring, a good, if showy shot—through the apartment window, a sustained pan of other gray, sterile high-rises—divides action between indoors and outside. In his apartment, the man keeps himself busy weaving knit shopping bags, avoska (“perhaps” bags)—unlike the disposable plastic ones currently in widespread use, bags that reflect the “character” which the labor that went into their hand-making has invested them. Outside, the man would attempt to give away—not sell; give away—these bags of his. No one accepts a bag; one soul chides him for the “old-fashioned” style of the bags. Back indoors, the man breaks down in tears.
     Although I myself am going blind, and I, too, feel that the world in so many ways has passed me by, I found the film more forced than forceful. At times it felt mechanical. The undeniable scene-stealer, though, is the cat. Dvortsevoy, who has also edited, follows the cat as it goes about the business of being a pet cat—inquisitive, mischievous-without-intent (which is to say, without mischief), self-possessed and then suddenly, briefly, jangled. Reviewers stress the cat’s interference with the old man’s work; well, one might talk about, instead, the man’s interference with his cat’s focused, delightful play. Yarn tantalizes pussycats; it piques their interest.
     Wonderful creature! Middling movie. But the preferred plastic bags do convincingly correlate to the high-rise apartment buildings, and isolation and loneliness are sad whatever someone’s age.

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