Yuri's Day

Yuri's Day


Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Part thriller, part horror, part drama, this is a mysterious, surreal and beguiling effort from director Kirill Serebrennikov which invites the audience to take on the role of detective in the mystery of a young man's disappearance from an isolated Russian community.

The film tells the story of a visit by Liubov (Ksenia Rappaport), a world-renowned opera diva, and her son Andrei (Roman Shmakov) to her native town of Youriev-Polskii, as she attempts to show her spoilt boy the reality of her humble origins. However, this decision to revisit the isolated community of her birth proves an ill-fated one for Liubov as Andrei disappears during a visit to the local Kremlin, sending her on a frantic search which will take her from police station to monastery and even a tuberculosis hospital.

Copy picture

A captivating performance from Rappaport is the driving force behind this film, as we experience her torture, uncertainty and pain over the disappearance of her son and the ensuing transformation of her character. She becomes increasingly drawn into the microcosm of this isolated town, losing both her connection with the outside world and her social status. This extremely convincing portrayal of a transformation of the self through suffering and loss is most potently displayed by the moving scene in which Liubov expresses the force and extent of her grief through song, singing until she can sing no more - a literal loss of voice which also represents a symbolic break with her former identity as an opera diva.

Indeed, music plays a significant role in this film as Rappaport's performance is complemented by a haunting, melodic score, courtesy of Sergei Nevski, and an innovative use of silence which helps to build the tension. The significance of the dynamic between sound and silence is established at the beginning of the film in the sequence with mother and son travelling towards Youriev-Polskii, as the director playfully cuts between shots inside the car - which feature operatic music playing on the radio - and shots taken from outside, in which we hear only the silence of the barren, isolated landscape.

At the time it is easy for the significance of this contrast between the sound of the car radio (representing culture, civilisation and Liubov's past) to pass the audience by, but, in the light of what is to come, this is an important statement about the nature of the environment into which mother and son are travelling. This is no longer the busy, pampered world of the city where fame and fortune can buy stability and security; this is the untamed, isolated wilderness in which familiar certainties disappear and where their fame and fortune make them vulnerable outsiders. Here, a person can vanish as though swallowed by the oppressive landscape into which the sound of the car radio - the sound of the outside world - does not penetrate.

"Every year 30 to 40,000 people disappear in Russia," we are told by Seryj, the investigating detective, when he warns Liubov of the difficulty of finding her son. This pessimism is symptomatic of the darkness at the heart of this film, not only in its macabre and mysterious depiction of Andrei's disappearance, but in its uncompromising presentation of this small-town society; from the greedy and materialistic representatives of the church through to the unfeeling callousness of the town's authority figures and the truly disturbing scenes of deprivation and inhumanity at the hospital.

This is a real chameleon of a film, genuinely elusive and difficult to pigeonhole into a particular genre. Due to the film's potent combination of hyperrealism, mysticism and spiritualism, the audience-cum-detectives are forced to adapt to a new sense of perspective based on a world in which identity is in a state of flux, coincidence is a matter of course, and uncertainty is an all-pervading truth.

As much as mystery, intrigue and unpredictability may be the film's greatest strengths, this ambiguity also serves to expose its biggest weakness - an over-reliance on all of the above at the expense of coherent plot, realism and resolution. Those of you hoping to leave the cinema with a cathartic sense of fulfilment and well-being, be warned: this is a film with significantly more questions than answers.

Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2008
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Yuri's Day packshot
An opera singer's son disappears on a visit to an isolated community.

Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Writer: Yuri Arabov

Starring: Ksenia Rappoport, Roman Shmakov, Evgenia Kuznetsova, Sergei Sosnovskii, Andrei Smirnov

Year: 2008

Runtime: 137 minutes

Country: Russia


Russian 2008

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