Friday, March 23, 2012

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #11: TWILIGHT PORTRAIT (very flawed, yet thought provoking feminist cinema)

Now that this little gem (or is it even in fact a "gem") is finally starting to get more screenings in the U.S. (New Directors/New Films) I figured I'd review it for you guys since I already saw it on a whim trying to kill time between two other movies at TIFF last year. This is another one from the festival I saw that falls in to the same category as 'The Invader' in that it confused, intrigued and angered me all at the same time. One minute I wanted to walk out and see what else was playing at the festival, then the next minute I wanted to stick around to see how something would play out. On one hand 'Twilight Portrait' is a feminist film about detachment, loneliness, weakness and vulnerability in a world dominated by men (corrupt & sadistic police officers in the case of this movie) told in the "cinema verite" style of John Cassavetes (gritty, raw, realistic, bordering on looking like a documentary) with elements of neo-noir. Then on the other hand 'Twilight Portrait' feels forced and unrealistic to the point where you feel the director (first timer; Angelina Nikova) would pronounce the letter "B" in the word subtle. Then there's a third way to look at it: Because I'm a man and this film pretty much speaks to women exclusively for the most part (although I'm sure its general intentions were for everyone to enjoy it on some level) there's certain things that I just wont get (similar to how anyone can enjoy a film by Charles Burnett or Wendall B. Harris, but as a Black Male there's a certain understanding or connection I may get over non-black people who watch the same movie). In reality 'Twilight Portrait' is all of the above. Its somewhat provocative (intriguing), somewhat eye-rolling & unrealistic (angering) and I'll never fully understand everything about it (confusion). Whats also frustrating about 'Twilight Portrait' (and another reason it relates to 'The Invader') is that this is one of those films that I want others to see so I can talk about it, but only a small handful of people in the U.S. will get a chance to see this.
The backdrop of 'Twilight Portrait' has to do with a series of rapes that have been going on in the films unnamed Russian city courtesy of the local police. The bored and sadistic police officers ride around, pick up prostitutes or women walking home alone at night and rape them (it was kind of a fresh perspective to see a realistic portrayal of corrupt cops in the realm of sexism as opposed to racism). The film opens bluntly with a group of police tracking down a young prostitute and raping her. The focus of 'Twilight Portrait' is "Marina": An upper-class social worker who's bored with and detached from everything around her (job, marriage, even the affair she's having with her husbands best friend). And there are (some) legitimate reasons as to why she feels this way. As a social worker (specializing in youth) she doesn't feel like she's making an impact or change in anyone's life and starts to question why she bothers trying to help people in the first place. Her husband isn't really there for her which is her "reason" for having an affair, yet the affair quickly starts to bore Marina too (so why carry on with it?). Just when you think things cant get any worse for Marina, on her way home from having another adulterous hook up (her car breaks down at night and she has to walk home) she's picked up and raped by the same group of police who raped the prostitute at the beginning of the film. Once its over (she doesn't tell anyone about it) she turns in to a darker version of herself (whats also interesting from a film making standpoint is that from this point on in the story we never see Marina out in the day light. Only night, dusk and dawn). Now some of you reading this might think to yourself that its a natural transformation to turn in to a "darker" person after being raped but what happens next may puzzle you. She returns to the same neighborhood where she was raped hoping to spot the policemen (one in particular) that attacked her. She retraces her steps and redoes just about everything she did on the day she was raped (including going back to the same seedy restaurant where she does eventually spot the policemen). She seems to be intrigued by one in particular ("Andrei") and follows him to the point where she makes it obvious. At this point we see influences from films like Andrea Arnold's 'Red Road' and even Abel Ferrara's 'Ms. 45'. But instead of tracking Andrei down and harming him, Marina throws herself at him in a somewhat detached/apathetic way and tries to start a relationship with him! Andrei is confused at first but eventually he lets Marina stick around and their temporary & deranged relationship beings.

Is Marina looking for more abuse or is this her way of abusing and getting back at her rapist by constantly remaining in his face and never going away as a reminder of what he did to her? Is she THAT self loathing or is there a much bigger diabolical plan that Marina has in the works? This isn't revealed until the very end. 'Twilight Portrait' also has me wondering; Is modern day Russia really like this? Is it really as dreary as the film makes it out to be? Are the police really as out of control as the film portrays? This movie makes me never wanna visit Russia. It comes off as constantly grey, cold and just all around depressing (obviously I wouldn't let a small indie film determine whether I would go to another country or not, but I'm just sayin...). 'Twilight Portrait' is in a similar realm of films by people like Sofia Coppola which basically states: just because women appear to "have it all" (looks, job, husband, nice place to live, financial stability, etc) there could still be an unnamed void on the inside that no one has the ability to see (and this obviously applies to men as well). I respect Angelina Nikova for creating such a complex character and bringing up such through provoking questions, but at the same time it felt like when Marina was raped it woke her up. I'm all about blunt cinema and brutal storytelling but I dunno if I like the idea of a rape being the thing that snaps a woman out of her "funk". C'mon now. I don't care if this was directed by a woman, there's something fucked up about that. I like that by the end of the film Marina brings everything full circle and connects her Stockholm syndrome-esque relationship that she's having with Andrei with her job, but at the same time its kinda hard to keep sympathizing for or connecting with Marina when she keeps looking for abuse (physically and emotionally). Maybe I'm reading all this wrong or simplifying it (this is one of the reason I wish there were other people who saw the movie so I could talk about it) but that's what I got out if it. If you somehow happen to catch a screening of this please report back to me or drop me a comment on here.


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