Three Imaginary Girls

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{Imaginary Embracey also wrote about Short Stories in his weekly SIFF wrap-up}

WARNING: The preview video is NSFW, y'all.

Director Mikhail Segal stayed after the screening on Sunday to answer some questions, and he admitted that the device he uses to link the 4 stories in Short Stories is kinda lame, as devices go. But lame devices are easily forgiven when the result is so satisfying. The device in question is that a writer pitches his book of short stories to a publishing company, which passes because it’s not a novel. But the manuscript gets passed around the office, and each person who reads it becomes (not literally, just in a device-y sort of way) the main character in each story.

The film is only Segal’s second, but it’s confidently and beautifully shot, with a clear, distinctive point of view. Each story offers social commentary on the state of middle-class Russian life, ranging from bemused to scathing. I suspect my limited knowledge of Russian culture and history will rightfully subject my attempts at deciphering the messages to ridicule by those more informed, but here’s what I got. (Although I should preface these impressions bit by saying I was totally baffled by what was happening until well into each segment, so if you’d like to experience the revelations for yourself, just skip all this and go see it. In other words, SPOILERS.)

A couple hires a wedding planner to plan every last detail of their wedding day. This includes what time of day will best avoid shadows on the faces of the arriving wedding party, how the couple should feel when they are reading their vows (“anxious”), and at what point the men will spontaneously bust into knuckle push-ups. Satisfied with the planner’s attention to detail, they ask him for the deluxe package, which includes helping them choose between ice skating or language lessons for their as-yet-unconceived daughter, and scheduling their eventual extramarital affairs (after 2 years for her, 6 for him)

This one was my favorite.

Like a relay with cash, this bit follows an ever-expanding envelope of graft, passed from worker to official to bureaucrat on up the ladder until it stops (or reaches?) a very un-Putin-like President. Each leg of the relay is poignant or troubling in a different way, and it’s hard to imagine accomplishing what each participant wants without greasing the wheels, and yet it’s clear that each act of complicity in that system helps perpetuate the need for wheel greasing.

Energy Crisis
I suspect I’d have gotten much more from this if I were more familiar with Pushkin, but alas I am not and had to enjoy it only as a beautiful half-mystical, half-absurd story of an imposing librarian with the gift of sight, helping the army (I think?) search for a lost girl. Her power (or “energy,” as her military entourage never tires of repeating) appears to be tied to the books in the library. She speaks in rhymed poetry, and her instructions are translated into the somewhat less poetic parlance of military vulgarity by a Major who knows she’s his only hope.  

The Flame Will Blaze Up
In a nutshell, it turns out that a good lay (even a really really [really really] good lay) is not enough to overcome the revulsion towards ignorance and apathy in this steamy story about a middle-aged man who stumbles into a fantasy relationship with a doting, stunning, profoundly uninformed woman.

{Short Stories sceens one more time at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival on Wednesday, 6/5, 6pm at the Kirkland Performance Center}