Fantasia 2019 review: Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni)

Ding dong!

I don’t know what is more surprising – that this surefooted splatter fest is the first feature made by writer-director-editor Kirill Sokolov or that it was supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. This black, black comedy is artfully done, but it’s not an art-house film. And let’s just say that most of the characters are not fine upstanding citizens.

A young man stands in front of an apartment door while holding a hammer behind his back. We can tell that he intends to use it – we don’t need Chekhov to tell us that. (Chekhov wrote: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”)

The hammer might have further resonance for those who have read Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

Why Don’t You Just Die! received financial support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.

The door is opened by a bald, stocky man who looks tough, aggressive, dangerous. Not friendly! The visitor introduces himself as Matvei, and says he has come there to meet his girlfriend, Olya. This is news to the bald man, who is Olya’s father, Andrei. All the same, he lets Matvei come in. One inside Matvei is ready to sue the hammer, but…oops, Andrei is not alone. Natasha, Andrei’s wife and Olya’s mother, is there, too.

Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) has come to visit Andrei, who is the father of his girlfriend. Note the Batman hoodie!

 

Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) plays a police detective in the Russian film Why Don’t You Just Die! Note how that his pale green shirt matches the curtains. And the wallpaper. Not for long!

Andrei and Matvei sit down at the breakfast table and Natasha goes to the kitchen to make coffee for Matvei. Andrei reveals that he is a police detective. Probably a surprise for Matvei. The hammer falls out of his back pocket. Andrei asks, casually, if Matvei carries the hammer around all the time. No, no, he says, a friend wants to borrow it. As if.

Amazingly soon, the hammer, a television, a shotgun, handcuffs, a power drill and other items will come into play. Someone will be tossed right through a wall. There will be a shower of cash. And blood, ridiculous amounts of blood, torrents of it, rivers of it, gallons (litres?) of it. (In an interview, director Kirill Sokolov said that there isn’t THAT much blood, that other films have had more. Maybe so, but there is LOTS of blood in Why Don’t You Just Die!) However, the effect is cartoonish, not like someone is truly suffering.

Andrei’s shirt no longer matches the curtains.

Assorted flashbacks reveal what kind of person Andrei is, a medical quirk that Matvei has, and the purpose of Matvei’s visit. He is on a vigilante mission, seemingly motivated by love. That makes him the most noble person in the world of the film, next to wife and mother Natasha, who gets neither love nor respect from her husband. Appropriately enough for a vigilante, Matvei wears a Batman hoodie. And like superheroes and supervillains, Matvei and Andrei have remarkable endurance.

Bad behaviour in the past.

On the Fantasia web site, the description of Why Don’t You Just Die! contains this phrase “and all holy household hell breaks loose.” Ha! The understatement of the year!

It was wonderful to watch Why Don’t You Just Die! with a Fantasia audience. We were laughing, hollering and sometimes cringing. What is the sound of cringing? Sometimes it is “Ewwww!” As when bones are broken, blood spurts, a hammer is aimed close to delicate body parts or when one character contemplates using his tongue to. . . do something gross yet crucial.Writer-director-editor Kirill Sokolov has a master’s degree in the Physics and Technology of Nanostructures, of all things. In an interview he said: “Filmmaking is very close to physics and maths, because every scene is like a maths problem or a test that you have to solve. You try from one angle, then from another until you succeed. Very practical, very logical process.”

Why Don’t You Just Die! uses the X-Ray Camera!

I hope that Sokolov will make many more films and that I can see them, too.

(The web site of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which showed Why Don’t You Just Die!, says the film’s genre is Splatter, and its tags are: Violence, Satire, Thriller, Humour.)

I am not including the film’s trailer here because I think that it gives too much away.

Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni)
Country: Russia
Year: 2018
Duration: 100 minutes
Language: Russian
Director: Kirill Sokolov
Producer: Sofiko Kiknavelidze
Writer: Kirill Sokolov
DOP: Dmitriy Ulyukaev
Montage: Kirill Sokolov
Composers: Vadim QP, Sergey Solovyov
Cast: Vitaliy Khaev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy, Elena Shevchenko
Contact: Arrow Films

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Cinema Politica Mondays: Documentary Children 404 shows how anti-gay law endangers Russian LGBT teens

Image from the Russian documentary film Children 404
Image from the Russian documentary film Children 404

Countries are often called Motherland or Fatherland. How sad is it when a country can’t love and accept all of her children equally? How sad is it when flesh-and-blood parents turn their backs on their own children and say things like: “You are not normal, you are sick, why did I ever give birth to you?” Or worse yet: “You are a son of Satan!”

The documentary film Children 404 presents compelling evidence that homophobia is rampant in Russia, and that a law passed in 2013 has encouraged anti-gay vigilantes while also keeping many already wary and isolated teens in the closet.

This law bans propaganda about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” aimed at minors. In effect, that means that it’s illegal to offer support to gay teens – to tell them that they are normal, that they are not freaks of nature, and that they are “not the only one” – that there are many other people around the world just like them.

The film is named for the web site Children 404 (Deti-404 in Russian) which serves as an online meeting place for teens who might not have anywhere else to go. It was created by journalist Elena Kilmova; after she wrote an article about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) youth, she received email from a teen who had been suicidal until she read the article.

The name is inspired by “Error 404, page not found” a message that often comes up on the Internet. Klimova chose it because Russian society is seemingly telling gay teens that they don’t even exist. It gives then a chance to say “We are here!”

not found

More than 22,000 joined the group; 1,364 shared their stories.The film features excerpts from the messages posted on the site. Many are heart-rending, filled with sadness and despair. One mocks the idea that anyone would possibly “choose” to be gay. “Hey kids, be gays! Everyone hates us, humiliates us, beats us up – this is so cool!”

Few teens dare to tell their parents about their orientation, for fear of being thrown out of the house. The father who accepts his daughter and is proud that she is different is a rare exception.

A Guardian article about Error 404 quotes a “16-year-old from a small town ‘which isn’t even on the map’.” He says “Our school is considered progressive, but it is quite normal for teachers to say that homosexuals will burn in hell.”

Another Guardian article from 2013 says that “an MP in the Siberian region of Zabaikalsk called for a law allowing gays to be publicly flogged by Cossacks.”

Elena Klimova was 25 when the film was made. She doesn’t look much older than a teenager herself, which is remarkable considering the stress she must have been under for years. She reveals that she and her partner lost their jobs because of their orientation. They were both told to resign. Almost all the same-sex couples she knows want to leave Russia, but she does not want to go. She looks forward to a future when the present-day situation will be described as the “stone age,” and she hopes that it won’t take decades to arrive.

Klimova has been taken to court twice over the web site, in the most recent case, she was fined 50,000 rubles, approximately $740 U.S. An online notice from Amnesty International, dated March 18, 2015, says the the “Prosecutor’s Office in one of St Petersburg’s districts had submitted a request to have the Children 404 group. . .closed down.” Readers are urged to support Klimova by writing to Russian officials in protest.

Elena Klimova, founder of the Russian web site Children 404, which gives gay teens a place to express themselves and seek advice and support.
Elena Klimova, founder of the Russian web site Children 404, which gives gay teens a place to express themselves and seek advice and support.

Forty-five members of Error 404 participated in the filmmaking, with some sharing footage shot on their cellphones. But an articulate young man named Pasha receives the most screen time. When he visits his former school, the presence of a cameraman doesn’t stop students from yelling insults and throwing things at him. What do they do when they aren’t being recorded?

Pasha says that one of his teachers had said that gay people “should be burned and banished,” and that the school social worker and psychologist told him he was the one with a problem, because he couldn’t accept homophobes. “If you find love for them, they will find love for you,” they said. As if.

Rather than follow their surreal advice, Pasha’s solution is to move to Canada, home of his idol, Justin Bieber(!) He says “I am convinced that after seven years I will have a family, small kids and a house.” He also says that he plans to study journalism and possibly enter politics. He’s obviously a strong, smart and very determined guy, though I wonder if he has checked the price of Toronto real estate lately, or the sorry employment prospects for journalists in North America. All the same, I wish him the very best in his life here.

I have a suggestion, too. There’s a scene at a memorial to Lenin where Pasha sings a slightly fractured version of O, Canada. It sounds like he’s singing “We stand on guard for free.” Once he learns all the words, why not invite him to sing the anthem at some public event?

Pasha Romanov visits a friend before leaving Russia for Canada, in a scene from the Russian documentary Children 404. (Romanov now calls himself Justin, in honour of Justin Bieber.)
Pasha Romanov visits a friend before leaving Russia for Canada, in a scene from the Russian documentary Children 404. (Romanov now calls himself Justin, in honour of Justin Bieber.)

The web site Queer Russia says that vigilantes and policemen with machine guns tried to disrupt the premiere of Children 404 in Moscow last year. Police “checked the IDs of the audience, looking for minors and writing down passport data of some people.”

I’ve been asked to include this information: “Cinema Politica is presenting the Quebec premiere screening of CHILDREN 404 on Monday, March 23, 2015. Directors Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev will be in attendance all the way from Russia for a Q&A after the screening! The event is co-presented with Radical Queer Semaine, Concordia Documentary Centre, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and Queer Concordia.
More information can be found about Children 404 here:

While I wasn’t asked to share this info, I am happy to tell you that Cinema Politica was instrumental in getting the film made. The CP web site says “Cinema Politica co-founders Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, along with CP Board Member and Concordia University Research Chair in Sexual Representation and in Documentary Thomas Waugh and his colleague Ryan Conrad, launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise essential funds for this project. We eventually surpassed our goal and were able to raise $11,575 U.S. towards the making of CHILDREN 404!” The film’s credits says that all the money usedto make it came from crowdfunding. You might notice that some names appear several times, too.
CHILDREN 404
Directed by Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev / Russia / 2014 / 70 ‘ / Russian / English subtitles
Monday, March 23, 2015, 7 p.m.
Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd., W., Room H-110
Montreal, Quebec
Canada

Directors Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev will be there. (I predict that the first question they’re asked will be “What can we do to help?”)
Suggested admission is $5 to $10.