In the past, film was still an art that was completely committed to life, as someone remarks in KRAI (“The Country”). Now, however, like so many other things, this artform is corrupted by greed for profit. In his film, Aleksey Lapin agrees with this complaint, but with tongue in cheek: his portrait of a village on the Russian-Ukrainian border, with its rhapsodic, poetic form, isn’t taken in by any trends. And Lapin himself also adds a touch of irony to the statement himself, as two lads casually chatting onscreen are brought back to the present moment by the film crew who ask, “Can we film something now?”
That scene already says a lot about the self-conscious nature of this black-and-white film. In it, Lapin fakes the casting process for a work about his hometown. Thus the film is already a hybrid, because it seeks personal encounters out of this camouflage. By disclosing his intentions right from the start, the director lures in the villagers, who generously reveal themselves and their deepest aspirations to the camera. Observed scenes, like the one in an Orthodox church, alternate with conversations, for example with an elderly, retired teacher. And then the film seems to move away from work again, as it wanders over to a man with a horse on a river bank or to farmers in the fields.
In all of this, KRAI follows the satirical tradition of Jonathan Swift; as a result, the fantastical sides of reality are highlighted a little more clearly. Strange rumors about electromagnetism float around, while cars inexplicably die in the middle of the road. Lapin’s view of the villagers is affectionate, but not entirely unwavering: he would never let anyone embarrass themselves, but he does look for what is archetypal in the characters. Whether it’s a lone misfit who wants to release his bird from its cage, or a woman who is covering her children’s room with new wallpaper, KRAI shows a village whose hidden stories need just a bit of magic in order to be conjured up. (Dominik Kamalzadeh)
Translation: John Wojtowicz
russian, german, english, italian