It’s night-time in an icy street. In the background, you can just make out a number of dolls -carefully arrayed on shelves -staring back at you from a large shop window framed by fairy-lights. Four german shepherds sit or lie, panting, tongues lolling. The road glistens and glimmers with reflections. It’s quiet, almost meditative. And that’s when the drills start.
The drills pound the asphalt. The dogs flee, yelping. In their wake, four giant snow-ploughs sweep through the piled-up roads like gargantuan creatures from a mechanical hell. The number ‘4’ appears onscreen. Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s film has begun.
A still from the movie
What is so hard, so confronting about watching 4? There is no doubt the film is immensely uncomfortable. When Marina returns to the godforsaken village where she was born, we follow her for ten minutes. It’s an eternity in cinematic terms. As she keeps walking, there’s no music, no voice-over, just hard ambient sounds.
Khrzhanovsky uses this walk to let his viewers accumulate emotions, premonitions and anxieties. Nothing lifts the weight for the audience, there are no flattened dimensions. This is what it takes to get to that fucking village, and we need to know it. We need to feel it. You only get to the village by walking, and that is a difficult, protracted, unpleasant task. The scene is also distinctly non-psychological: we learn nothing about Marina’s character through her ’emotions,’ ‘gestures,’ ‘thoughts.’ There are no bits of a jigsaw puzzle to be pieced together; no release.
But this is nothing compared to what happens when we get to the village.
In these scenes -usually singled out as the movie’s most unpalatable – a host of toothless old women (all played by non-professional actors) will drink themselves into a state of absolute animalistic excess. They will talk in the dirtiest language imaginable, take their tops off, and ravage a freshly slaughtered pig, named ‘Borka,’ in a way which, as film critics have pointed out, will turn many committed carnivores into new-born vegetarians.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.