Dni zatmeniya [Days of Eclipse] (1989)

[Part of the Science Fiction special in the Vienna Filmmuseum.]

Dni zatmeniya is Aleksandr Sokurov‘s loose adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky‘s novel Definitely Maybe, starring Aleksei Ananishnov, Eskender Umarov and Vladimir Zamansky.

A small town in Soviet Turkmenistan: the young, promising doctor Malyanov (Aleksei Ananishnov) is writing on a paper about juvenile hypertension and its correlation to old believers. [Or something like it.] But strange things start happening around him. He receives a crab from someone, his neighbor Snegovoy (Vladimir Zamansky) is killed, but when he visits him in the morgue, they have a talk and his best friend Vecherovsky (Eskender Umarov) is behaving weirdly, too.

Oh boy. This movie really doesn’t make a lick of sense. I probably would have walked out of it if I hadn’t promised to meet friends afterwards. It’s just one giant sequence of What the Fuck.

I saw this movie in the Russian original with German subtitles. Since my Russian is very limited (apart from the occasional “tchyord” [чёрт, meaning devil] I practically didn’t understand a thing), this certainly didn’t make things much easier. But even if I did understand more Russian, I doubt that I would have understood more. Not only was apparently all the audio tacked on in post-production, it was shoddily done and half of the time you had to guess who was talking at that moment.* [And then the German subtitles were inserted at the wrong moments and were grammatically wrong most of the time, so that really didn’t help.]

But apart from the sheer linguistic understanding, which was difficult, it really made no semantic sense. I doubt that it was supposed to, but it did make watching this film extremely hard.

Sokurov is obviously a very talented film maker and he still managed to evoke a strong atmosphere for the film. But I have to admit that his constant switching between (yellow tinted) black and white and color shots (in no discernible system) bothered me.

But I just can’t get over how little sense this film made. And I believe that this movie would have lost nothing but gained everything if it had made at least a little sense. I kept hoping that it would, but it just got weirder and more annoying.

Summarising: The only thing I got from it was frustration. Maybe I’m not artsy enough to appreciate this film, so be my guest to try whether you get a different result. I doubt it, though.

*Which reminded me of the two times I was in the cinema while I was in Russia: First, I saw the Barber of Siberia and the parts that were in English were dubbed into Russian, but the original sound was still there, which was already quite confusing. But then I saw The Perfect Storm which used basically the same procedure, but only one guy who spoke all the lines which was extremely disconcerting.** Maybe that kind of dubbing/sound editing is a Russian thing.

**It might have been the other way round with the Barber having only one guy doing all the talking and the Perfect Storm more. I have to admit, it’s been more than ten years since this happened and I’m fuzzy about the details. But I know for sure that for one movie it was that way.

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