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Arrhythmia at RFW17: ‘raw emotions and human destiny’

Released in Russia on 5 October 2017, Arrhythmia is now featured at the Russian Film Festival in London. Written and directed by Boris Khebnickov, it is an honest picture about the life of a talented doctor in the Russian periphery.

Oleg Mironov (Alexander Yatsenko) is an excellent first-aider. He understands his profession, boldly and ingeniously improvises, does not fear hard-to-treat patients, and readily ignores the orders of his superiors. But when he returns home to his wife Katya (Irina Gorbachev), he turns into a drunken wretch. In his personal life, Oleg is not capable of making decisions, nor able to handle serious conversations – he reminds us of a small child who believes that if you ignore problems, they’ll go away. Subsequently, Katya finds herself incapable to fight for this emotionally stunted relationship and requests a divorce. In his usual manner, Oleg cannot understand what issues his wife could have, and acts as if it was one of their usual fights, not a break up. Meanwhile, in the hospital, a new chief of first-aid (Maksim Lagashkin) introduces pioneering methods in medical practice that are directly opposite to everything Oleg is used to.

The genius of Arrhythmia lies in the fact that there is no objective right or wrong in Oleg’s actions: no strictly defined sympathetic characters or binary oppositions. These are ordinary people, who are not ideal, but are still perfectly understandable to the viewer.

From a cinematic perspective, the film gains its aesthetics via the use of long takes that the modern audience is no longer used to, evoking a sense of life itself and allowing the movie to flow naturally. In the meantime, the audience is able to fully grasp the surrounding, décor, and essential attributes of Oleg and Kate’s everyday living. According to the movie’s director, Arrhythmia does what few films do nowadays, and “pierces you with [the] ordinary”.

Khlenickov’s film has not just received three Kinotavr prizes (Russia’s most famous film festival), including the Grand-Prix and the Audience Choice Award; it has appealed to a large section of the mainstream audience. Many ambulance doctors were able to recognize themselves in the characters, sympathizing with the relationship crisis that the profession caused between Oleg and Kate. Without many options for leisure, free time for young people is often filled with drinking. This doesn’t define them as alcoholics, but demonstrates a lack of perspectives and alternatives in a small town like the one in the film. Could that be the cause of the life crisis that the protagonist is having?

The vast majority of modern Russian filmography either avoids talking about the present through traveling to the past, or hides from it behind a glamorous facade. Arrhythmia, on the other hand, portrays modernity quite vividly and realistically, in all the contradictory complexity of the everyday life. This alone makes Khlebnikov’s movie an achievement. It is often said that it is two pictures in one: a family story and a production drama. But, although these alternating narratives may seem parallel and almost non-sequitorial, this reveals the paradoxical duality of the protagonist. A tough and determined man at work and an immature teenager at home: is this really possible?

Largely, Arrhythmia is a private story, but it’s also a political cue about current medical reforms which have hit first-aid very hard. The indignation of the film’s protagonist is clearly felt, and it’s difficult not to agree because the plot shows the problems objectively, without unnecessary hysteria and an overflowing of emotions.

It’s worth mentioning that there is an incredible performance in looks, pauses and even silence not only from Yacenko but also from the secondary characters. In this very thoughtfully shot film, we can observe raw emotions and human destiny; while the scenes themselves can be seen as tense holistic mini-films. A remarkable storyline is glued together from independent episodes.


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Masha Tsarkova

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