Dir: Alexander Veleninsky. Russia. 2013. 100mins
The funny, smart and rather subversive Geographer Drank His Globe Away (Geograf Globus Propil) – which won the main prizes at this year’s Odessa International Film Festival and the Open Russian Film Festival ‘Kinotavr’ at Sochi – is a film that clicks with audiences who embrace with bitter humour, sexual shenanigans, engaging performances and bleak backdrop. Set for a Russian release later this year, it should find its home on the festival circuit, though whether it may be too mainstream to work for international art house distributors.
Much of the humour may well be lost in translation, but the film moves at a good pace and is driven by strong performances and a nicely quirky sense of fun.
Alexander Veleninsky has transplanted his adaptation of Alexei Ivanov’s novel from the 1990s to the present day, allowing plenty of pot shots at the current state of Russia, while also making great use of the cold and bitter backdrops of Perm, Zakamsk in the Lower Kuria district and Usva, in the Gremyachinsk district.
Biologist Victor Sergeyevich Sluzhkin (an engagingly dour but oddly charming Konstantin Khabensky, who also won best actor at Sochi) is desperate for work, and manages to convince a local school to take him on as a geography teacher, despite knowing nothing about the subject. He can’t stand the rude students, has no money and quarrels constantly with his wife Nadya (Elena Lyadova) in their tiny flat. He loves his young daughter, but can’t bear his life.
He flirts with other women and even encourages his best friend, the bear-like Budkin (Alexander Robak) to start an affair with his wife, and finds the only way to cope with his loneliness and lack of direction by smoking and copious of amounts of drinking. Against all odds he slowly finds a way of getting along with his class (which mainly involves drinking a great deal) and foolishly promises a river trip for those who get the best grades.
Much of the humour may well be lost in translation, but the film moves at a good pace and is driven by strong performances and a nicely quirky sense of fun. Sex may be at the core (though drinking is also ever-present) but there is nothing explicit, with Sluzhkin always a rather genial and well-meaning character despite his flailing and failing life.
Production companies: Picture studio Krasnaya strela, Marmot Film
International sales: Ant!pode Sales, http://antipode-sales.biz/
Producers: Valeriy Todorovsky, Vadim Goryainov, Leonid Lebedev
Screenplay: Alexander Veledinsky, Rauf Kubayev, Valeriy Todorovsky, based on the novel by Aleksey Ivanov
Cinematography: Vladimir Bashta
Editors: Alexander Veledinsky, Tatyana Prilenskaya
Music: Alexei Zubarev
Main cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Elena Lyadova, Aleksandr Robak, Yevgeniya Brik, Anna Ukolova, Evgenia Khirivskaya, Anfisa Chernykh