Rotterdam 2015 Review: ANGELS OF REVOLUTION, Soviet Avant-gardists Unite
The variegated tapestry of odd customs, a weird ghost appearance (probably the most memorable and oddest of them all), rituals, superstitions and celebrations of the corporeality of womanhood in the eastern Volga region epitomized a motley collection of cultural fragments that is available from a rare and tiny population, not to mention Fedorchenko´s own visions and ambitions. The filmmaker´s fascination with ethnic minorities and obscure customs also fuels his latest outing, Angels of Revolutions.
The title bears an expectation of politics, which is a good hunch. Fedorchenko retells a dark chapter in Russian history about the forced collectivization in the 1930s among indigenous Soviet tribes on the banks of the river Ob. The government summons an ace agent, the sexy, green-eyed Polina "The Revolutionary" Schneider (Daria Yekamasova, who also appeared in The Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari), to do her job as smoothly as possible. Having the privilege to put together a dream team, Polina starts to assemble the brightest Soviet avant-garde minds.
Though recent Russian films are often politically charged and bear the indelible stigma of the times, as in, for example, Academy Award contender for Best Foreign Language Film Leviathan, Angels of Revolution is much more colourful fare compared to Andrey Zvyagintsev´s take on the Biblical book of Job. Fedorchenko once again sticks to the mercurial nature of the narrative form, nourishing a variety of digressions and anecdotal curlicues running halfway through the film.
Polina ventures back and forth to put together her art squad, and prepares her team to invade uneducated minds in the isolated taiga because "only art can domesticate Soviet power." The female lead recruits an array of cosmopolitan friends: a composer fantasizing about a rhapsody of whistles and steam engines, a filmmaker making propaganda films with dogs and real corpses, a theatre director whose male ensemble lines up for execution, an architect with a penchant for nudes, and a sculptor chiseling the figure of the world's first theomachist.
The second half of the film maps the team´s struggle to cultivate the indigenous tribes of Khanty and Nenets, who stubbornly refusing the new ideology, with, for example, an offhand exhibition of suprematism.
Angels of Revolution is an incredibly rewarding experience, as there is not a single futile nor boring frame. Nor are any half-baked ideas presented. A myriad of ideas are condensed through sardonic humour into elaborate sketches -- one in particular could be called "Dead Owl Sketch" -- proving Fedorchenko´s visionary power.
The endless procession of witty and poignant scenes demonstrates a master at work: an interlude on angels looking up to the heavens, where Bolsheviks reside in the clouds; a cat-worshiping tribe hanging little coffins in the trees, as in the Philippines; the deadpan advocacy of cremations for everybody in the former USSR. The Russian director's potent creative grasp and perpetual delivery of fresh ideas in a political text galvanizes the spirit of the great Yugoslavian maverick Dušan Makavejev, and his majestic quilt of ideas is stripped of imperious subversivness and perversion.
Fedorchenko approaches the historical matter and the political substance with the grace and playfulness of Soviet futurists creating stranger-than-fiction adventures. The fixed shots and static, frequently offbeat theatre staging -- the aesthetics of the theatre add further formal meaning -- invigorates the overall, oddball dimension of the magic-realism of Angels of Revolution.
This avant-garde adventure into ancient paganism and traditional folklore crescendos into an abrupt and chilling denouement conjuring a dormant force, a brute reminder of the Great Samoyedic War, also bearing further significance on the present times. Fedorchenko´s ever-changing approach to style and genre doesn't exhaust nor cannibalize itself, as he reinvents them with every new entry in his vibrant filmography. Obviously, Angels of Revolution is not the exception.