Montreal Nouveau 2021 Review: Folklore Dreams Get Peculiar in TZAREVNA SCALING

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Montreal Nouveau 2021 Review: Folklore Dreams Get Peculiar in TZAREVNA SCALING

Many little girls (and boys, I'm sure) have dreamed of becoming a princess; or at least, dreamed themselves the child of royalty, thus giving them a life of leisure, parties, worship from the adoring public, and a pretty awesome wardrobe. This is certainly true of Polina (Alina Korol), a beautiful but lonely young woman, who dreams of a live better than what she has: working at a fried-fish truck next to the shipping yards. One day, a strange customer gives her a special tea. After drinking it that night, Polina wakes up the next morning to discover that she is a Tzarevna (daughter of a Tzar) - or at least she could be, if she passes the tests.

Folklore expert, photographer, and filmmaker Uldus Bakhtiozina takes a skewer both sharp and gentle to our ideas of princess and royal life in her feature debut Tzarevna Scaling. Like a series of rooms with a weak connection and yet each filled with objects and people so strange that you know they must be real, lush in design, and giving a hefty side-eye to Russian folklore and its influence on contemporary culture.

When Polina wakes up into her dream, she finds her old tube television set telling her she's entered in this strange competition; in the hallway outside her apartment, several women in various states of dress (some elegant, some looking like should be smoking and sitting on a stool in front of a VLT) are also waiting their turn. But Polina gets to the front of the line; she's not exactly sure what to do, but she knows she wants and deserves to be a Tzarevna. Her fairy godmother - really a woman about Polina's age who seems more than a little bored with this task - takes her through the inevitable paperwork, practice on how to walk and talk, make-up lessons, etiquette lessons. Like a dream made up of random things you saw on the street and stored in your mind, mashed together (men in sheep costumes, a human head on an eagle body), this is a tactile and absurd world, which nonetheless has its rituals to which Polina must adhere.

Bakhtiozina wears several proverbial hats: director, writer, editor, and costume designer. Certainly the latter is wondrous sight to behold: the intricate headpieces, perhaps a bit mroe traditional in design, coupled with knee-high boots give a sci fi/fantastical twist. Bakhtiozina understands the modern Russian woman, especially working class, is stuck between the grand old Russia and its rich folklore traditions, the still-recurrent memories of the Soviet Union era, and the contemporary where such dreams should probably be put to rest (the headresses feel out of a few hundred years ago, they carry 70s era walkie-talkies, but their boots are definitely a 21st century accessory).

Admitedly my knowledge of Russian folk tales is not good, and most likely a lot of references were lost on me; however, I do know how we can get caught up in dreams of a life seemingly more grand, and let's face it, rich than we have, especially when the culture and society we live in tells us things we so much better in those days. Bakhtiozina might be presenting a dreamscape, but she is pragmatic, and wants her heroine to express that, understanding that while ritual and pageantry have their place, it's a limited one in a world where few have access to an opulent life. Polina must decide what she's willing to give, and give up, for a dream that might ask too much of her.

A deceptively complex tale wrapped in a gorgeously intricate dress, Tzarevna Scaling is a dark delight, a strange and quiet adventure for the audience and a young woman who must experience her dream rto discovery if she really wants it.

Tzarevna Scaling

  • Uldus Bakhtiozina
  • Uldus Bakhtiozina
  • Viktoria Assovskaya
  • Uldus Bakhtiozina
  • Albina Berens
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Festival du Nouveau Cinema 2021Uldus BakhtiozinaViktoria AssovskayaAlbina BerensComedyDrama

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