Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

4 is a movie full of ideas, which frequently reinvents itself in ways you could never see coming that frustrate, alienate and annoy. By demonstrating a hard-boiled indifference, hammering - quite literally, as it happens - our attention in the opening shots, director Ilya Khrzhanovsky sets us up for a wild ride. It doesn't happen. Instead, you have a disorganised, infrequently lucid film that truly defies pigeonholing, with the flavour of a homespun urban myth.

It opens with three strangers and the nodding-off barman, who tell each other a little about themselves. It's an interesting set of stories, not least that of a piano tuner who claims to be working for a "doubling" facility deep inside Russia. He explains that the best way of cloning is to grow four identical chromosome complexes at the same time and that the Russian administration has been doing this experimentally since the late Thirties. Another, a packaged meat salesman, claims to be responsible for selling bottled water to the Kremlin and the last, the prostitute Marina, says she sells a machine that induces mild euphoria.

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The drinkers depart and the film follows each of them, although Marina's story takes up the most time, starting with her identical sister's funeral in a remote village. Vladimir Sorokin's script selects literally dozens of potentially fascinating ideas - the morbid fascination with genetic modification manifests itself in the meat seller's life as perfectly hideous "round piglets", the idea of cloning is revealed in the fact that there are four identical siblings at the funeral, including the one in the coffin, and the mass production of dolls, using chewed up bread as material, provided by the old crones of the village. Crones making clones? Ha!

Unfortunately, 4 does almost nothing with these ideas, choosing to keep them at the back of the narrative. It's a far more interesting movie to think about than to watch. Khrzhanovsky's technical skill and ability to show us strong visions of acrid beauty means that I find it hard to shake. However, his languid pacing and editing, combined with a stubborn refusal to take the story somewhere more interesting, makes it seem more of a curiosity than anything truly worthwhile.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2005
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An enigmatic story of modern Russia, given the flavour of myth.
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Director: Ilya Khrzhanovsky

Writer: Vladimir Sorokin

Starring: Marina Vovchenko, Irina Vovchenko, Svetlana Vovchenko, Sergei Shnurov, Yuri Laguta, Konstantin Murzenko, Alexei Khvostenko

Year: 2004

Runtime: 125 minutes

Country: Russia


EIFF 2005

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