Home movie moves Russia

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The Independent Online
RUSSIAN TELEVISION, like its British counterpart, shows many repeats of comedies that were hardly funny in the first place. Moscow's video kiosks, meanwhile, offer little more than pirate copies of American kick-boxing and gangster movies.

But Russians are raving about one new film and they are proud of the fact that, despite the decline of their cinema industry, it was made in Moscow.

Land of the Deaf appeared on the big screen earlier this year and won several awards in Russia. It was directed by Valery Todorovsky, a young man whose humanity and faith prove not everyone is bad or mad and not all is lost in this country that produces so much depressing news.

The film tells the story of Rita, who manages to run away when Russian gangsters capture her boyfriend, Alyosha, and torture him for non-payment of a debt. Rita is befriended by a deaf girl called Yaya, who has also suffered at the hands of brutal men. In her strange sign language and broken speech, Yaya tells Rita that somewhere, far away, there is a beautiful "land of the deaf" where they can find peace and happiness.

Rita is drawn back to her boyfriend, who belongs to the world of violence. By experimenting as a prostitute, then by working as a "translator" for a deaf gangster, she manages to raise enough money to pay off Alyosha's debt but her good-for-nothing boyfriend loses it all gambling.

The film ends with a shoot-out between the deaf gangster's gang and the bandits holding Alyosha. Rita either loses her hearing from the noise of gunfire or chooses to seem deaf, and finally accepts Yaya's invitation of asylum in the land of the deaf.

Escaping in this way appears to mean rejecting the horror and violence of modern Russia, where mafia crime has made life cheap. "The land of the deaf could also be the inner self, the life of the spirit," said Todorovsky in an interview. "But if you choose to take it that way, I won't argue with you."

Land of the Deaf was made on a relatively small budget. Much of the action takes place on a boat that is normally a floating restaurant on the Moscow River. Todorovsky's small private company, Racoonfilm, rents office space at Mosfilm, the rambling, old state complex that in better times used to be Russia's answer to Hollywood.

After making Land of the Deaf, his third big movie, Todorovsky, 36, son of the director Pyotr Todorovsky, was feeling optimistic about the chances for a revival of Russian cinema. Then the economic crisis struck.

"Cinema needs stability. It takes at least a year to make a film and you need audiences with money in their pockets to enjoy it. Now, it seems we are back at square one. Yet, I remain an optimist. I love my profession. I cannot live with the feeling that everything is over," he said.

For the time being, he is surviving by making films for television, based on the detective novels of Alexandra Marinina, a policewoman turned popular thriller writer.

He rejects the idea of emigrating, as he says a film-maker needs to work in his own language. Yet he loves foreign cinema, especially British films.

Todorovsky first made his name with a 1991 movie called Love about a romance between a Russian boy and a Jewish girl. With anti-Semitism on the rise in Russia and a growing neo-fascist movement, this could not be more relevant. For Todorovsky, differences of race and creed are unimportant and there are only two nationalities: those who hate and those who love.

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