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Where Film Style Comes From

After first working on three episodes of the television serial Black Room (Chornaia komnata, 2000), Krichman and Zviagintsev have combined to produce over the last decade a succession of poignant films centered on familial themes. While the narratives of these films are scant and only partially revealed, they mobilize their settings to shape these themes. In The Return (Vozvrashchenie, 2003), two young brothers go on a road-trip with their stern father, a man they hardly know. Their journey takes them into nature as the film relies on the Russian landscape to amplify the conflict between the callous man and his sons. Krichman and Zviagintsev's next film Banishment (Izgnanie, 2007) presents the tragic repercussions of marital infidelity, abortion, and the story of another set of brothers. This complicated film continues a kind of exaltation of nature, opposing images of lush, pastoral countryside with bleak, industrial spaces. In their latest film, Elena (2011), Krichman and Zviagintsev focused on present day conditions in Moscow, opposing the sleek furnishings of a modern apartment with the cramped spaces of Soviet-era high-rises. This neo-film-noir features an elderly woman who murders her frigid husband in order to protect her son and his family.

Krichman and Zviagintsev's films advance visual strategies, which rely upon a studied deployment of formal film elements. They confront spectators with pensive, carefully composed moving images, informed by evocative staging, framing, and editing, leading some critics to posit that the two filmmakers are establishing a distinct visual style. Responding to question regarding their recognizable craftsmanship in a 2007 interview, Krichman asserted that a film's style originates from the collaboration between the director and the cinematographer. He corroborates this statement by pointing to some of his biggest influences, including cinematographer Roger Deakins, the long-time collaborator of the Coen Brothers, and Darius Khondji, the cinematographer who has worked with such directors as Bernardo Bertolucci and David Fintcher. Krichman argues that the films Deakins shot with the Coens have a stylistic unity that is completely different from his collaborations with other directors. He adds that visually Khondji and Bertolucci made something very different from the kind of films Khondji and Fintcher produced. In addition to these Western influences, Krichman's definition of the creative process also associates his work with Zviagintsev to the long tradition of director - cameraman teams from the history of Russian/Soviet cinema, which includes such tandems as Eisenstein-Tisse, Vertov-Kaufman, Kalatozov-Urusevskii, and Tarkovskii-Iusov. 

Of course, the collaboration between Krichman and Zviagintsev is not without problems. Although Zviagintsev leaves to Krichman many decisions in regards to the formal aspects of shots, they have clashed over certain scenes. While filming a particular shot for The Return, in which the father and his sons struggle to push their car out of mud, the director and cinematographer clashed over how to go about resolving the challenge of the scene, whose problems were compounded by technical problems and Krichman's unhappiness with the way the car looked in his shots. After clashing, the two apparently did not speak for the remainder of an afternoon. Nevertheless, their continuing collaboration suggests that Krichman and Zviagintsev constructively challenge each other to resolve the problems. They are both inspired to come up new solutions to old problems of filmmaking.

In regards to visual characteristics, Krichman's camera has been described as being dynamic even when it's perfectly static. Oleg Dulenin asserted that Krichman "constantly searches for unexpected camera angles. But not in the interest of self-expression, or, rather, not only for that purpose, but also for a more distinct expression of characters and their performance. In this way, Krichman overcomes the frustrating deficit of visual expression of (Russian) mainstream cinema. Krichman's camera finds itself where it's need, much sooner than viewer's can blink." (Znamia, No. 6, 2004.) Krichman decisions are informed by a certain set of principles that shape his work. At a time when cameras are rarely static in Hollywood-influenced mainstream cinemas, he holds that only dramaturgic needs should inform camera movement and editing. This distinction marks camera movements in Krichman and Zviagintsev's films with a particular semantic effect that is often lost in films that exhaust camera's mobility.

Consequently, Krichman has an aversion toward cranes and hand-held shooting. Though they might be visually impressive, he deems sweeping crane shots without narrative significance as gratuitous. In regards to hand-held shooting, he blames his own physical limitations for his preference not to carry steadicams for handheld shots. Krichman instead looks to substitute the psychological capacities of handheld and shots with simpler alternatives, using static or tracking shots. But even though he doesn't want to carry steadicam rigs, Krichman loathes being separated from the camera, refusing to be left watching a monitor as someone else operates it. He claims to love handling camera's because this lends vivacity to the subject and has the potential to achieve emotive effects that engage spectators.

Before the Belyi kvadrat award Krichman principled, technical prowess was also recognized at the 2010 Venice International Film Festival. He received the award for his work on Aleksei Fedorchenko's Silent Souls (Ovsianiki). The minimal, pensive style of this film closely resembles that of The Return and Banishment, suggesting that the visual style Krichman developed in tandem with Zviagintsev is part of a larger trend in Russian cinema, which simply put looks to expand the possibilities of visual expression.

Zdenko Mandušić
Author: Zdenko MandušićCountry: US
Zdenko Mandušić is pursuing a joint Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His areas of study are Russian/Soviet and Yugoslav cinema, film theory, and Russian and Southeast European Literature. He plans to write a dissertation based around the question of how the desire for innovation has inspired technological developments.

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