Brilliantly written and stunningly realized, Schastye moe is the first fictional feature by writer-director Sergei Loznitsa, a former documentarian. It is a road picture for those who love stories—the abundance of stories that one finds in, say, classic Russian novels, such as by Dostoievski, where the main story sprouts other stories revolving around subsidiary characters, all of which, because this is a movie, we get to “see.” From time to time, therefore, we lose track of the protagonist, young trucker Georgy, whose attempt to deliver a haul of flour is complicated by his losing his way on the road and encountering hostile Russians who are unwilling to help, as well as corrupt, overbearing and even brutal police officers who undermine “his joy,” the sheer freedom of the road. This film by Loznitsa, a Ukrainian, finds post-Communist Russia exactly like Communist Russia and, by extension, Tsarist Russia insofar as people are surly and embittered by being discounted, brutalized and discarded. The “new Russia,” for ordinary citizens, is as disillusioning as its predecessors. Slyly, Loznitsa has said he was inspired by the indecipherable nature of Russia’s system of roads!
The bravura opening signals the disposability of humanity. It is a “process analysis” showing the mixing and pouring of cement, followed by the dragging along the ground and, subsequently, bulldozing into a resting-place of a corpse. Except for all this activity, the placid, open landscape is unpopulated; because of the framing, we never see to whom the hands dragging in closeup the presumably murdered victim belong, nor can we “see,” except as an indecipherable dot in an extreme long-shot, whoever is manning the bulldozer. The latter action also includes, dehumanizingly close up, the mechanical shovel busy at work. We never learn who was the soul who is thus buried out of sight, but the implication hovers that he was, and is, one of multitudes of similar victims.
Our very brief glimpse, at home, of Georgy’s silent, alienated marriage (or partnering) suggests that the bulldozing of the stranger points to an emotional and moral atmosphere that permeates even the most personal aspects of contemporary Russian life.
Georgy, we see on the road, chafes at authority; he gives a ride to a child prostitute who turns out to be even more defensive than he and who leads him into a rural town from which he will labor to discover an exit. Curiously, the roads here seem so simple; but what promises a way out turns out to be a dead-end. Meanwhile, Loznitsa digresses from Georgy to survey a group of the prostitutes. Some problems are far worse in post-Communist Russia than they were in Communist Russia.
In a serpentine way, Schastye moe is slowly, inexorably headed for a violent finish. Georgy’s pilgrim’s non-progress yields at points to the non-progress of others, including that of an old hitch-hiker with caustic memories of his thwarted attempt to go home and rejoin his sweetheart after combat service in the Second World War. Throughout, Loznitsa is devastatingly unsentimental, and his closing shot of a mute disappearing into the darkness at night as he moves like a possum, by foot, away from the camera along a seemingly endless road that has no destination haunts.
An astounding work, Schastye moe finds Loznitsa at the advent of a new and staggering journey—that is, if our present-day Vlad the Impaler doesn’t have it snuffed.
Best film prizes at the Molodist International and Tallinn Black Nights Film Festivals.
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