Monday, 31 October 2011

LFF 2011: Target (Alexander Zeldovich, 2011) Review

The mask of eternal youth... Justine Waddell stars in Target (2011)

Russia, 2020. Co-written with 'Ice Trilogy' author Vladimir Sorokin, Alexander Zeldovich's Target presents a futuristic utopia whose model exteriors cloak rabid corruption among its bourgeoisie classes, whose greed for eternal life has spoiled them. Over the next decade youth has become a commodity, attainable for a price. Zoe (Justine Waddell) and Victor (Maksim Sukhanov), along with a group of equally opportunistic friends, travel to an abandoned astrophysics complex in search of eternity, recalling the quest to The Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979). Sadly this Russian epic has none of the depth or invention of that classic, ending up a tiresome mishmash of ideas and ideologies which range from the stupid to the plain offensive...

With that said, I'd like to highlight some positives. Target is 154 minutes long and there are very few scenes which feel familiar - Zeldovich's crumbling utopia is an individual and hermetically sealed world, and especially interesting in its approach to architecture. How refreshing it is to see a film set in the future which doesn't look like Metropolis (Lang, 1927) or Blade Runner (Scott, 1982), instead making subtle changes to the face of contemporary Moscow. This is a country whose pristine veneer, now heavily influenced by China, has been built over time - its towering glass skyscrapers, expansive motorways and touch-screen walls feel real, and provide a present tense reminder of our worrying dependence on technology. This is a landscape which, in its details, provokes thought. Funnily enough, the film's deepest aspect may be its surface.

The score, by Leonid Desyatnikov, is also beautifully composed, and DP Alexandre Ilkhovski lends the film a striking palette of heightened blues and greens. Unfortunately it's the underneath of Target which proves ugly, displaying an unsettling penchant for casual misogyny. None of the women in the film have jobs. None have any individuality, instead existing at the command of men, whom they are demanded to look beautiful for. They're frequently objectified and abused, treated like objects or possessions. By the third rape scene my blood was literally boiling, and I began to wonder why any actress would ever sign up for such gross mistreatment. Waddell is an English actress who learnt Russian for the part, and she was happily in attendance at my public screening. Every ounce of her passion is evident onscreen, but her efforts are wasted on a character whose victimization is disturbing and, frankly, upsetting.

The film's problems extend to its philosophies too, which are at best shallow and at worst non-existent. As with all futurist societies this cityscape has allegorical qualities, presenting its audience with questions about technology and its effect on contemporary life. Zeldovich's envisioning of the home in 2020 is quite interesting, and again remarkable for its subtlety, but as the film drags on (and boy, does it drag!) the details get lost amid the director's bigger picture, allowing for bizarre cutaways to a satirical TV cookery show where the host politically harasses his contestants and ends up violently attacking them or the audience. It feels like a scene Godard or Buñuel would have executed in the 60's, although it lacks the bracing wit or insight of their work; Zeldovich's politics are so on the nose that it can sometimes feel like we're watching a party broadcast.

It's no wonder people have been walking out of Target in their droves, although I do think the film is worth seeing. Yes, it's at least 45 minutes too long. Yes, it's tonally scattershot and prone to lashings of wanton sexual violence. Yes, there are times where I hated it. But there are also images of undeniable artistry and power which will stay with me for months for come, and the film provides a definite talking point. One thing I can guarantee is that nobody walked out of that screening and ignored what they'd just seen. They reacted. I doubt the film will ever get a UK release outside of festivals, but if it does I can't wait to see the audience divide. They won't know what's hit them...

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