Writers and Directors: Lev Prudkin and Vladimir Prudkin
Lev Prudkin and Vladimir Prudkin’s film No-One takes a crucial moment in the history of the Soviet Union and uses the political machinations of an attempted coup as the backdrop to a personal drama playing out hundreds of miles away from the Russian capital. A sex-comedy with a Chekhovian flavour, No-One has a ponderous grandness that contrasts with the, sometimes grubby, machinations of marital betrayal and the emptiness of a middle-class existence.
Political bigwig The General sends his nephew to check on his actress wife on a summer holiday at the beach while he participates in an attack on the failing government. But, overstepping his brief, Vlad instead pursues Tamara who has already rekindled an affair with the much younger lifeguard she met the year before. With blackmail on the cards, will The General discover all the ways his family have betrayed him?
The Prudkins’ film makes some light allusions to The Seagull in their scenario – an actress with a grown-up son indulging in an affair with a younger man across a fateful weekend – but situates this is a wider, dangerous political context of an era ending and all of the repercussions that this creates for the characters. It’s an interesting approach, and Ehud Gutterman’s bright, pastel tones in the art direction give the visuals a breezy feeling which reflects the cinematography.
At almost two hours, No-One is overlong, however, weighed down by extended scenes between Vyacheslav Zholobov’s The General and George Marchenko’s Vlad, the first lasting around 15 minutes, that provide far too much exposition for a relatively slight story of romantic deception. There is a grandiosity to the language for this character that tries too hard to be poetic while often losing the audience in the oblique phrasing and overly laboured dialogue.
Similarly, characters feel remote, often entirely dislikeable and while that may be the point, spending two hours in the interlocking dramas of a group of people who have few redeeming features becomes a little waring. The allure of the General’s actress wife Tamara has the men of the film desperately trying to get and retain her attention, although in her limited dialogue the character is given little charisma beyond her star status. A film with a decidedly male gaze, it is notable perhaps that Nataliya Vdovina is the only actor asked to be naked in the film in an art-house movie made by her nephew in which her companion remained full clothed and in a number of sex scenes where her state of undress is the only focus.
But other characters are equally hard to root for including nephew Marchenko whose determination to seduce his uncle’s wife drives the beach scenes. He is deeply dislikeable, a Shakespearean villain almost, interested only in his own pleasure as he simultaneously pursues a pretty young neighbour who seems remarkably taken with him, and all in the name of his ‘art’.
The Prudkins create a bold, decisively tragic ending to their film in the most classical sense, with almost all wrongdoers punished for their crimes in sometimes gruesome fashion that adds a note of morality to the shifting nature of the film. No-One is about the consequences of political and social change at a turning point in Russia’s history, but this visually pleasing film is hard to love.
No-One has its London premiere at the Soho Hotel on 7 October.