Boris Ryzhy

Boris Ryzhy


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Boris Ryzhy was a poet, a talented one. Born in what amounts to a lost generation, he was an adolescent at the tail end of Soviet communism, becoming an adult as Perestroika turned the red menace into a gangsters' paradise.

This is a haunting documentary, readily described as poetic, but it's probably closer to a dirge, a lament. Boris was award winning, but there was, it seems, a darkness around him, and the film does not shy from it.

Early, there is a prediction from a fortune teller: "You will die because people like you cannot live. What will kill you? Guilt."

This is as thorough, interacting with friends, family, hunting down neighbours, even putting footage from the cameraphone of his son on the screen. It's beautifully composed - music, editing, shots built and maintained evoke a real sense of the space Ryzhy made for himself, and then left behind. It's mournful, genuinely saddening, a little tragedy on the scale of human suffering but nonetheless moving because we get a sense of the man.

Director Aliona van der Horst works closely, to a possibly indistinguishable extent, with Maasja Ooms. Wandering the 'scrap metal district' of Ekaterinaberg to find folk who grew up with Boris. Many of them were victims of the criminal age that accompanied the fall of the USSR, the rise of the robber barons, the "bodyguard generation". Van der Horst at one point runs her camera through a graveyard whose every headstone bears an etched portrait, granite photographs.

One of the survivors is interviewed, giving an assessment of Boris that's telling: "[I] respect him not because he was a poet, but because he was a good hooligan."

There's a side to this film that's confrontational, for a start the construction - it's not a meander, but it wends its way with an unhurried meter, breaking apart its rhythm of interviews and readings and video of Boris himself with dream-like sequences, almost un-filmic in the lack of a proper thread of continuity. Yes, it moves in time, yes, it paints a picture, but this is less a succession of scenes in a story than poems in an anthology; a unity of voice, even subject, but variations of tone and form abound.

Tom Bijnen's sound work is stellar, his design mixing a variety of sources, music from a variety of alt-rock bands, a gentle indie shuffle at times, harsher at others. Then there are the readings, Boris himself, Oleg Dozmorov too, translations on screen as subtitles, all elements work together in an artful construction.

The honesty displayed by those interviewed is stunning, so, too, the sadness. It's hard to say where the film stops and where Boris begins. It's like a black hole, visible only by things that surround it - radiation of destruction kicking out where light cannot escape. Or maybe, given Boris' studies as a geophysicist, a seismic fault - an interruption where great energies interact. That contrast, those pressures the poet, the hooligan, the father, an earthquake; this is a portrait of aftermath, and it is devastatingly beautiful.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2009
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A documentary exploring the life of russian poet Boris Ryzhy.
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Director: Aliona Van der Horst

Year: 2008

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: Netherlands

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