Dir: Ivan Vyrypaev. Russia.2006. 73mins.
A brief, spare but intense love story, Euphoria is a ferocious and downbeatwork from debut Russian film-maker Ivan Vyrypaev, whomay have over-reached himself with its poetical effusions, but who displaysenough promise to watch for the future.
Gloriously shot, withjudicious and often surprisingly effective choice of camera angles, it paresdown the classical love triangle to its essential basics of husband, wife andher lover, then expands these chamber piece elementswith operatic sentiment.
The kind of picture thatshould bowl over romantic souls, it is bound to do well in festivals - itcompeted at Venice after its world premiere at the KinotavrOpen Russian Film Festival in Sochi in early June -and find a distinct commercial niche on arthouse circuits.
Pavel (Maxim Ushakov) noticesVera (Polina Agureyeva)while attending a wedding and cannot get her out of his mind. That she ismarried to Valery (Mikhail Okunev)and has a young daughter, Masha, does not matter: hestill has to have her, come what may, and nothing willstop him. Pavel approaches her, but while Vera doesnot encourage his advances, she does not reject him out of hand either.
When the family dog bites Masha's finger, Valery losescontrol, treats his daughter with a pair of scissors and vodka, puts her tosleep, finishes what's left of the vodka, shoots thedog and then sends his wife off to bury the animal's corpse. Vera returns, onlyto find Masha has been taken to hospital with afever; Valery, awaking from a drunken stupor, thenroughs up his wife.
Eventually Vera elopes with Pavel, Valery becomes insanelyjealous, polishes off some more vodka, loads his shotgun and goes out to findthe treacherous couple.
Taken at face value,Euphoria would seem to carry little plot: rather Vyrypaev'sreal contribution is in how he stages and shoots the story. The piece opens inthe middle of nowhere, as Pavel, a haunted expressionon his face and a mad look in his eyes, tells a friend that there is no lifefor him without Vera. Around the men is nothing but vast emptiness, the greenpastures burned by summer sun, interspersed by chalky ravines. White, unpavedroads cut across the landscape, from one end to another, like forceful linesscratched by a primitive painter.
Placing the charactersinside the right natural frames remains the main preoccupation of Vyrypaev, and it often seems that the landscape makes asmuch a statement on the feelings of the characters as they themselves. Thescenery frequently steals the show, as the valley of the River Don and the vastdeserted flat steppes offer a spectacular backdrop to a primeval explosion ofemotions.
From the start Vyrypaev more than shows he knows how to position hiscamera. The manner in which he exploits every possible option before movingonto the next set-up demonstrates his awareness of photography's impact on adrama.
It is only when, short ofnew ideas, the direction goes back and repeats its dramatic gimmicks too oftenthat audiences might suspect that Euphoriais overlong for what it has to say, even at 73 minutes.
The three adult characters,devoid of any sophistication or pretence, are like forces of nature, nevertrying to control themselves or thseir actions. Rather they face therepercussions of their deeds with the fatal innocence of creatures that haven'teven begun to realise that they have been banished from the Garden of Eden.
The combination of thestriking images and the considerable impact of the compelling soundtrack, providedby a virtuoso accordionist, add to the fierce passion of Maxim Ushakov, who plays Pavel as if hehas lost control of his senses. Polina Agureyeva, whose innocence remains untarnished down to thelast moment, similarly leaves the audience breathless.
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