From Russia with Lovers

A Mod Moscow Clashes with the Old World in You I Love

Timofei (pretty boy Evgeny Koryakovsky) is an advertising copywriter who drives a precision automobile, wears the latest fashions and lives in an impeccably furnished flat. Vera (Lubov Tolkalina, the most beautiful actress to be drunk up by a camera since Monica Bellucci) is a TV anchorwoman whose appetite for sex is exceeded only by a kooky need for food. The pair frolic around a scrubbed-clean Moscow brimming with life, chic nightclubs and bouncy techno blaring in the background.

Foisted into the hip couple's happy life is monkey-boy Uloomji (Damir Badmaev), a laborer who toils at the city zoo but wants to be a circus acrobat—that is, when he isn't wanting to get in Timofei's trousers. He succeeds at the latter, just in time to get walked in on by Vera, who is at first repulsed but ultimately so lonely she joins the boys for the most unorthodox of threesomes, one that ventures like astronauts gingerly making their first moon steps into Moscow's bi/gay/lesbian/transgendered scene.

This ain't your father's Russia, Ivan!

Or is it? Because just when you're thinking the post-Commie culture has obviously leapfrogged several steps beyond America's own tolerance of alternative lifestyles, into the story pops Uloomji's ass-backwards family. Uloomji is Kalmyk, the semi-nomadic, simple people of Mongolian descent who know little of electricity, running water, and Will & Gracesubplots. Backed by rich uncle Vanya (snicker, snicker), the parentals resort to the closest thing they know to the American Christian Right's mythical sexual reprogramming: they enlist Uloomji in the Russian military, which may or may not have a nyet ask, nyet tell policy. Can Timofei and Vera save their lover/friend—and does their lover/friend even want to be saved from a barracks full of young bucks?

You I Love, which won the Best Foreign Narrative Feature Film at the 2004 NewFest, New York City's gay film festival, is the feature debut from Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitri Troitsky, a veteran directing team of shorts and videos (their 1998 Bruner's Trialwas acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York). But the pair's quick-cut technique through the You I Love setup is too brisk for even the best-trained music-video junkie. Even after firing up the TiVo to re-read the English subtitles (the film is presented in Russian), I didn't know until scanning the production notes afterward that a year was supposed to have passed between the time Timofei and Vera had their first clumsy encounter and Uloomji arrived on the scene to interrupt their coitus.

Fortunately, the filmmakers do eventually slow things down and let You I Love breathe, and that's when their piece is at its most engaging, especially in scenes involving our confused, passion-starved threesome. Speaking of scenes, despite the gay story line, it is Tolkalina who is most often shown naked. Prudence knows no boundaries, apparently.

More than one critic has tossed in references to Pedro Almodóvar when describing this film, and considering the vibrantly colorful images, the slapstick comedy and—above all else—fucked-up relationships, I'm not one to disagree. You can also lump in Almodóvar's affinity for riffing on politics and culture, as You I Love uses Timofei's advertising gimmicks and Vera's obsessive consumerism to comment on capitalism run amok in New Mother Russia.

It's nice to see another land struggling with the culture wars for a change—and even more refreshing when we see the sins of the flesh are much less morally reprehensible than those of the social order.

YOU I LOVE WAS DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY OLGA STOLPOVSKAYA AND DMITRI TROItSKY; WRITTEN BY STOLPOVSKAYA; AND STARS DAMIR BADMAEV, LUBOV TOLKALINA AND EVGENY KORYAKOVSKY. NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.

 
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