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Once in Trubchevsk (Odnazhdy v Trubchevske)

Lovers mull whether to separate from their partners and start a new life, raising the ire of small Russian town - live from Cannes


The town of Trubchevsk is located in the Bryansk Oblast of Russia, not far from the Ukrainian border. Life is quite uneventful for a lorry driver (Egor Barinov), his wife Tamara (Maria Semyonova) and their teenage son Vytia. Tamara does the housework, Vytia plays videogames and the lorry driver (his name is never revealed) provides for the family with his vehicle. Until he starts seeing a woman called Anna (Kristina Shnaider), whom he picks up daily somewhere along the motorway.

Their affair isn’t exceptionally torrid, at least not if you are familiar with Almodovar’s or Francois Ozon’s filmography. Yet the mere existence of an extramarital relation is enough to rock the quiet little town. Anna too has a family, including a child daughter. Her husband Yura (Yury Kisylyov) is devastated upon finding out about her dalliance. He thought that she was in Moscow selling the scarves and dresses that she knits. He begs her to stay, but she eventually moves in with the lorry. Anna’s mother-in-law disseminates the news, which spread like wildfire and quickly reach Tamara. The lorry driver begs his wife not to leave him, and begins to lead a double life with both women. But that isn’t sustainable, and sooner or later he will have to make a decision.

Anna and Tamara are far more liberated than the lorry driver and Yura. The women are prepared to start a new life, while the men are profoundly scared of change, and of making difficult decisions. Perhaps this a subtle feminist statement, in a country where feminist memes can land you in jail, but not domestic violence. Or perhaps not. Maybe the females too could should abide to the long-established social norms. The writing is on the wall: don’t go chasing waterfalls, stick to the river and the lakes you’re used to.

The film takes place during the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Bryansk Oblast from the Nazis at the end of WW2. The town is vibrant with festivities. Ultimately, this is a film about the refusal to move on. Russia is a very conservative society, not very good at embracing change. And very nostalgic about the past. The country repudiates sudden and abrupt change, both within the heart of the family and the political establishment.

There are a couple of interesting moments in the movie. They include Anna doing a sexy dance for the lorry driver to the sound of Flamenco-sounding Russian pop music, and an adorable old lady reminiscing about WW2, when she sheltered and saved a partisan from an almost certain death in the hands of the Germans. Overall, however, Once in Trubchevsky is mostly languid and plain.

Once in Trubchevsk is showing in the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival as part of the Un Certain Regard section. The director introduced the film describing the selection of her movie as “a miracle”. Which is probably true for a Russian female director, in a country where the film industry is largely dominated by male directors. I don’t recall seeing a Russian film made by a female director in a large European film festival. The film in itself, however, isn’t particularly miraculous. Unlikely to make it beyond the festival circuit.

By Victor Fraga - 23-05-2019

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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