House Arrest – Punishment for No Crime

REVIEW
Aleksey German Jr.'s House Arrest (2021) premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard strand along with Kira Kovalenko's Unclenching the Fists (2021) (read our review). It is said to be straightforward and downright accessible in comparison with the director's oblique and arthouse previous films (The Last Train (2003), Garpastum (2005). The directness, however, seems innovative when it comes to exposing the Russian political situation.
by Marina Shchelokova


21/09/2021
Fight for having a say, choice in the face of despair, incarceration and stuffiness, – the picture appears copy pasted from reality straight to the screen. Many talk about how house arrest for embezzlement (set up for political purposes) is a reference to Serebrennikov's case (Serebrennikov is a Russian director, artistic leader of "Gogol-centre"theatre. He was charged with misappropriation and spent a year and a half under house arrest. Now he's released to his own custody. This year the director wasn't able to attend Cannes Festival where his Petrov's Flu (2021) was screened because of the case against him.) Some notice that the judge in the movie bears the same name (Morozova) as the one pronouncing the sentence of Aleksey Navalny. Aleksey German Jr. emphasizes he sketched a generalized image.

The director was initially working on a wide scale and expensive war drama Air but the production process had to be suspended due to the pandemic. That's when Aleksey German Jr. remembered the story he had written with scriptwriter Maria Ogneva. It tells about a literature professor – David (Merab Ninidze) who published a Facebook post accusing a mayor of plunder and corruption, attaching a caricature of him copulating with an ostrich. After the media campaign a case was opened against David. Allegedly, he stole the money allocated from the state for holding a scientific conference. David's confident – it's the mayor's revenge.
Regardless of whether it has any certain prototype, it is clearly a courageous statement having everything to do with the world we live in. Everyone's aware of that just as everyone in the German's nameless town knows David is innocent. The thought is embodied in red paint on a bedsheet hanging out from David's balcony: "We all know who the real thief is." When the investigator requests to take it down, the professor says: "Show me the article in the Constitution that says I can't dry my laundry."

Political critique is not the only layer to the story. House Arrest in many ways takes after a tradition of describing little men getting stomped on by the system. Having been led to the boiling-point, they rise against the usurper, rise above themselves. The movie starts with Sartre's quote: "Human life begins on the far side of despair." That side is Pushkin's Evgeny standing up to the bronze giant, that side is Gogol's Akaky Akakievich haunting those in power, that side is David throwing down the gauntlet. Like a Don Quixote, the professor dives deep into literature and, detached from reality, forgets fear (referred to as common sense by many).
David specializes in the Silver Age of Russian Poetry (roughly 1890s-1930s). He works with a Chinese student, who visits him during the walks despite the official University's prohibition. They study Osip Mandelstam – a poet who was arrested for an epigram on Stalin ("We live without feeling the country beneath our feet…"). The student claims that David, unlike other professors, feels Mandelstam. Osip's colleague Anna Akhmatova also acquires a symbolic meaning in the movie. Anna's the author of "Requiem" – a poem dedicated to the Great Terror. Her husband was executed and her son was arrested multiple times. We find David's mother (Roza Khairullina) standing under Akhmatova's portrait as their profiles merge at the face of common tragedy.
The mother is a Bonny to David's Clide. The greatest friend, the loyalest ally, the harshest critic. She visits the incarcerated every day and warns him of the consequences through a dense plume of cigarette smoke. Her passing away leaves a gaping hole in David's heart. He recites poems to her dog ready to give up the lawyer to save the money for a lush funeral. He doesn't get a chance to say final goodbyes.

David's forsaken in the fight even though people keep coming in and out of the cell. An ex-wife wouldn't find documents to help with a case (Anastasia Melnikova), a daughter wouldn't answer the phone (Alexandra Bortich), a sympathetic doctor wouldn't give an injection (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a plumber cuts off the water supply, but apologizes for it while sharing a glass of liquor. Seeing empathy and respect in the eyes of people surrounding David is reassuring. However, no one seems to be temerarious enough to give up life for the noble purpose. A lawyer (Anna Mikhalkova) does catch David's fire. Their victory in court may look like a happy ending but it's not their victory. Mayor's removed but David's voice still has no volume. That's when he says: "It was all for nothing."

This kafkaesque satire is a single-location single-plot line story that manages to unite multiple epochs all asking out the same question: is it worth the fight? Is it worth the suffering, the pain, the terror? David ends up released (literally and figuratively). His daughter returns and forgives. His name's cleared. But the final scene's disheartening: same flat, same bed, same facial expression, same issues dating back as far as historians were able to dig. Vicious circle.
 
House Arrest – Punishment for No Crime
REVIEW
Aleksey German Jr.'s House Arrest (2021) premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard strand along with Kira Kovalenko's Unclenching the Fists (2021) (read our review). It is said to be straightforward and downright accessible in comparison with the director's oblique and arthouse previous films (The Last Train (2003), Garpastum (2005). The directness, however, seems innovative when it comes to exposing the Russian political situation.
by Marina Shchelokova


21/09/2021
Fight for having a say, choice in the face of despair, incarceration and stuffiness, – the picture appears copy pasted from reality straight to the screen. Many talk about how house arrest for embezzlement (set up for political purposes) is a reference to Serebrennikov's case (Serebrennikov is a Russian director, artistic leader of "Gogol-centre"theatre. He was charged with misappropriation and spent a year and a half under house arrest. Now he's released to his own custody. This year the director wasn't able to attend Cannes Festival where his Petrov's Flu (2021) was screened because of the case against him.) Some notice that the judge in the movie bears the same name (Morozova) as the one pronouncing the sentence of Aleksey Navalny. Aleksey German Jr. emphasizes he sketched a generalized image.

The director was initially working on a wide scale and expensive war drama Air but the production process had to be suspended due to the pandemic. That's when Aleksey German Jr. remembered the story he had written with scriptwriter Maria Ogneva. It tells about a literature professor – David (Merab Ninidze) who published a Facebook post accusing a mayor of plunder and corruption, attaching a caricature of him copulating with an ostrich. After the media campaign a case was opened against David. Allegedly, he stole the money allocated from the state for holding a scientific conference. David's confident – it's the mayor's revenge.
Regardless of whether it has any certain prototype, it is clearly a courageous statement having everything to do with the world we live in. Everyone's aware of that just as everyone in the German's nameless town knows David is innocent. The thought is embodied in red paint on a bedsheet hanging out from David's balcony: "We all know who the real thief is." When the investigator requests to take it down, the professor says: "Show me the article in the Constitution that says I can't dry my laundry."

Political critique is not the only layer to the story. House Arrest in many ways takes after a tradition of describing little men getting stomped on by the system. Having been led to the boiling-point, they rise against the usurper, rise above themselves. The movie starts with Sartre's quote: "Human life begins on the far side of despair." That side is Pushkin's Evgeny standing up to the bronze giant, that side is Gogol's Akaky Akakievich haunting those in power, that side is David throwing down the gauntlet. Like a Don Quixote, the professor dives deep into literature and, detached from reality, forgets fear (referred to as common sense by many).

David specializes in the Silver Age of Russian Poetry (roughly 1890s-1930s). He works with a Chinese student, who visits him during the walks despite the official University's prohibition. They study Osip Mandelstam – a poet who was arrested for an epigram on Stalin ("We live without feeling the country beneath our feet…"). The student claims that David, unlike other professors, feels Mandelstam. Osip's colleague Anna Akhmatova also acquires a symbolic meaning in the movie. Anna's the author of "Requiem" – a poem dedicated to the Great Terror. Her husband was executed and her son was arrested multiple times. We find David's mother (Roza Khairullina) standing under Akhmatova's portrait as their profiles merge at the face of common tragedy.
The mother is a Bonny to David's Clide. The greatest friend, the loyalest ally, the harshest critic. She visits the incarcerated every day and warns him of the consequences through a dense plume of cigarette smoke. Her passing away leaves a gaping hole in David's heart. He recites poems to her dog ready to give up the lawyer to save the money for a lush funeral. He doesn't get a chance to say final goodbyes.

David's forsaken in the fight even though people keep coming in and out of the cell. An ex-wife wouldn't find documents to help with a case (Anastasia Melnikova), a daughter wouldn't answer the phone (Alexandra Bortich), a sympathetic doctor wouldn't give an injection (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a plumber cuts off the water supply, but apologizes for it while sharing a glass of liquor. Seeing empathy and respect in the eyes of people surrounding David is reassuring. However, no one seems to be temerarious enough to give up life for the noble purpose. A lawyer (Anna Mikhalkova) does catch David's fire. Their victory in court may look like a happy ending but it's not their victory. Mayor's removed but David's voice still has no volume. That's when he says: "It was all for nothing."
This kafkaesque satire is a single-location single-plot line story that manages to unite multiple epochs all asking out the same question: is it worth the fight? Is it worth the suffering, the pain, the terror? David ends up released (literally and figuratively). His daughter returns and forgives. His name's cleared. But the final scene's disheartening: same flat, same bed, same facial expression, same issues dating back as far as historians were able to dig. Vicious circle.
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