Independent film productions, often having very limited budgets – or even budgets based on creators private means – allow artists to achieve the freedom they would never have had in a production system. Although in the clash between great box office entertainment and modest, small cinema I will always stand on the latter side, this time I cannot fail to pay attention to a few dangers arising from titillating artistic ego and creative freedom.
NU/牛, a drama written, directed, played and produced by a young Chinese artist living in Russia, Yang Ge, will serve as an example. A simple, immature story could become a picture of the late coming of age of lonely sensitive person, who is unable to find herself in a foreign world, if not for the narcissistic focus on self and tedious display of artist’s painting and vocal skills stretched for several dozen minutes (it is a relief that it wasn’t longer!). Without a fictional addition, one would think that this is a kind of lengthy acting portfolio.
An intimidating amount of kitsch mixed with addition of sexism, in which Yang Ge is dangling with joy, would not be a problem if it was treated with healthy amount of self-irony balancing the move, which NU/牛 obviously lacked. Unfortunately, this is not the case – the delicate, melancholic poetics associated with Hong Sang-soo’s cinema was quickly replaced by embarrassment caused by an excessively inflated ego-baloon.
I do not quite understand why the film was awarded at the Moscow Film Festival. Is Russian cinema experiencing a crisis this year? Were ministerial subsidies so modest (international co-productions seem to look much better)? Regardless of the reasons, this is not a cinema that you watch with pleasure – I will mention that there were many similar examples of Russian movies during Sputnik that I did not wrote about.
It is impossible to assess whether Yang Ge lacked self-awareness, distance or an outside voice of reason. Attempting to shoot the so-called “brave scenes” will not help the director – they will rather cause a loud sigh of weariness than surprise. This is not where Russian cinema stands. By the way the same thing happened in the perestroika period, which was overwhelmed by the sudden injection of freedom.
I think that NU/牛 aesthetics is closer to internet vlogs (I do not only mean the frames shot by phone’s camera, but also the whole, simple structure of the film) than reliable independent festival movie. Who knows, maybe Yang Ge is actually quite an intelligent artist, producing interesting art – but this is not apparent in her self-presentation.