Innocent Saturday

98 minutes

Russian screenwriter Alexander Mindadze's second film is a thought-provoking juggernaut that uses the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster as trigger and background to a cautionary tale of comeuppance. On the night of April 26, Valery (Anton Shagin), a minor party officer in the nearby city of Pripyat, is one of the few people that is aware of the actual danger posed by the explosion, but his attempts to leave before something worse happens are thwarted at every step by his personal ties, namely his girlfriend and the rock band he used to play in before his rise within the ranks soured the relationship. While everyone around him keeps going on with their lives, oblivious to what's going on, Valery finds himself living a sort of surreal fever dream heightened by sleeplessness and vodka, being constantly pulled back to the Pripyat hotel where friends are getting married - a metaphor for the inability to let go of one's past, for the danger of forgetting it, but above all for the realisation that none of that will happen until you come to terms with it.
Even though mr. Mindadze is a veteran screenwriter, Innocent Saturday has a lot in common with new Russian filmmakers such as Sergei Loznitsa, Alexei Popogrebsky, Alexei Fedorshenko or Andrei Stempkovsky. But, unlike those often opaque or observational features, Innocent Saturday thrives on a careening, frenzied urgency and on a (very Russian) wry, absurdist humour, the handling constantly on the move suggesting a mouse caught in a mousetrap - and mr. Mindadze, much helped by Oleg Mutu's stupendous camerawork, manages to keep it up during the film's entire length. The film can be occasionally unfocused, but the smart writing, strong performances (not least from mr. Shagin, an appealingly human rendering of a right bastard) and powerful handling allow it to keep gaining speed until an ironic, muted ending brings it all crashing down.

Starring Anton Shagin, Svetlana Smirnova-Marcinkevich, Stanislav Ryadinsky, Vassili Guzov, Alexei Demidov, Vyacheslav Petkun, Sergei Gromov, Ulyana Fomicheva.
Directed and written by Alexander Mindadze; produced by Alexander Rodniansky, Sergei Melkumov, Matthias Esche, Philipp Kreuzer, mr. Mindadze, Dmitri Efremov, Oleg Kohan; music by Mikhail Kovalev; director of photography (Cine Postproduction Bavaria, Salamandra, widescreen), Oleg Mutu; production designer, Denis Bauer; costume designers, Irina Grazdankina, Ekaterina Himicheva; film editors, Dasha Danilova, Ivan Lebedev.
An Alexander Rodniansky/Sergei Melkumov/Matthias Esche/Philipp Kreuzer/Oleg Kohan presentation of a Non-Stop Productions/Bavaria Pictures/Passenger Kino/SOTA Cinema Group production, in co-production with ARTE and MDR; with the support of the Russian Ministry of Culture, Fond-Kino, Ukraine Cinema Agency, Filmförderungsanstalt, Deutsche Filmförderfonds; in collaboration with Mosfilm and Bavaria Film. (Russian distributor, Kino Bez Granic. World sales, Bavaria Film International.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection screening, Kino International (Berlin), February 15th 2011. 


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