2014 | Yury Bykov
Life is hard in lower-class Russia. At least that’s what writer-director Yury Bykov would lead us to believe. After a pipe bursts in an old, dilapidated apartment building, Dima (Artyom Bystrov) is called out almost in the middle of the night to investigate, as the head of this particular department doesn’t want anything to do with it. After an examination of the burst pipe, Dima runs outside to see the building is actually sinking in its foundations, which has caused one incredibly large split down the building’s structrual walls. The building is about to collapse and will take the lives of its 800 residents with it.
Despite scheduled annual inspections, the building hasn’t been checked in years. The chief housing engineer has been pocketing that part of the budget. In fact, every major head of department in the town’s bureaucracy has been pocketing their budgets. After Dima calls the Mayor to summon an emergency meeting, we learn even she has been diverting half the town’s budget back to the very politicians who gave her said budget. If she doesn’t, the town won’t get any money. There’s nothing she can do. Its a metaphor, and a sharp jab at Russia itself; decades of mismanagement and embezzlement has left the country in a precarious state.
The film is not just a cynical observation of the selfishness of bureaucracy but also an observation of the selfishness of mankind itself. Dima is a member of the lower class, and works incredibly hard at his job. He is a plumber – a profession never lacking employment opportunities. It is one of the busiest trades in modern life, the kind of tradesperson we can never do without. Not in this town, though. Dima’s parents are disappointed in his life choice; he could be so much more. Even his wife is disappointed in the study he undertakes in his free time, so he can gain more knowledge, take a test and hopefully earn a promotion.
When he summons the town’s figureheads together, though, he is not causing trouble looking for a promotion. He is simply wanting to save the lives of 800 people. He is not trying to shame his superiors, as they would lead you to believe. Nor is he searching for a sense of self-gratification, as his mother and wife would have you believe. He simply does not want to be held accountable for the deaths of so many people, and so he will do everything in his power to ensure their survival.
The film lives and dies by its characters, and it is executed as such. Recurrent close-ups, focus pulls and tracking shots bring what might otherwise be a dull subject to life, as the characters fight amongst themselves as to the right decision to make. Where conspiracies and backstabbing would become commonplace in a Hollywood film of the same type, human emotions come to the fore. The Mayor is actually trying desperately to save these people, but has dug herself a large enough hole that it may just be impossible to get out of. Bykov hammers the film’s message harder than necessary, with constant reminders of the struggles of the lower-class, and the beau monde of the aristocracy, but the film is a forceful drama deserving of international attention. Its message is clear, but its relevance need not be limited to its setting.