' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: The Fool

Monday, October 20, 2014

CIFF Review: The Fool

In the frigid darkness of a Russian Night, Dima (Artem Bystrov), sort of a Eurasian version of Joe the Plumber, strikes out down the sidewalk while a pop anthem on the soundtrack rises, its rhythm matching the urgency of his every stride. He is not a man functioning on account of high-falutin' ideals but from a place of mere human decency, simply wanting to save the 800 souls unwittingly resting inside a decrepit tenement building tottering on the verge of collapse. It is a hero's moment but Dima, the film argues and betrays with its title, is not a hero. As the camera pans alongside him it eventually comes to a standstill with a red traffic light in the foreground of the frame. It's telling Dima to stop, of course. But he doesn't stop. He won't stop. He's a fool.


The chief of a maintenance crew in a bleak, unnamed Russian town, he is called to a housing complex on account of a burst bathroom pipe only to find the entire edifice fissuring from the ground to the top floor. Upon doing some quick calculations he reasons it has roughly 24 hours before it splits apart and crumbles - perhaps a narrative stretch but sometimes fierce allegories require a stretch - and so like the RMS Titanic functioning as a 46,000 ton metaphor for Victorian Society about to crack apart and go under, this building of mis-managed apathy and greed at the center of director Yuri Bykov's "The Fool" comes to resemble and, in turn, repudiate a society seemingly content to let anyone not on the top rung founder.

Dima's wife (Darya Moroz), and his mother and father who live with them, urge him to turn his back on the problem, arguing that to stir up shit will only effect a target on his back. He stirs up shit anyway - literally, in fact, by barging into the birthday celebration of the town's mayor and money-grubbing power-broker, Nina (Nataliya Surkova).

As Nina takes the stage to make a speech, Dima is glimpsed periodically in the background, appearing woefully out of place in his sweater and stocking cap, like he's time-traveling extra at an "Anna Karenina"-esque soiree. The contrast between these pompous, wine-swilling, back-patting chieftains and the poverty-stricken and hardscrabble addicts for whom Dima brazenly goes to bat would be crudely broad if it didn't ring with so much head-shaking truth.

Finally, upon being explained the situation, they adjourn to a conference room and debate what to do, only to realize their rampant mis-direction of funds that could have aided the dwelling's repair has left them with virtually no options. How do they evacuate 800 people when there is no place to put them? What happens when they are forced to explain themselves to higher-ups in the midst of the evacuation? This sequence, and ensuing ones like it, are filled with none-too-subtle, perhaps too much so, explaining and politicking to the point that one characer literally admonishes out loud their "beauracratic" bellyaching. It also betrays how the backstory and motivations of the rich get more face time than the those of the poor, but maybe that's intended. Who in Putin's Russia gets more face time than the rich and powerful? The poor's motivation is meaningless and hardly existent. The old man playing cards actively roots for a collapse.

In this elongated middle act, Dima also appropriately kind of becomes lost amidst the movers and shakers, as his attitude bears no significance to the choices being made by those who really run the show. He is at their mercy, as everyone is, and yet when he makes his inevitable choice in the impassioned conclusion to take a stand, Bykov takes care to illustrate his protagonist's ethics as being both righteous and irresponsible, clinging to humanity even as he surrenders his soul.

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