- Gabriel Tejedor’s third feature film takes us by the hand and guides us into deepest Russia, a land still trying to make peace with the past, but which nonetheless dreams of a better future
Three years on from his magnificent Mayskaya Street [+see also:
film profile], Swiss director Gabriel Tejedor is returning to the Visions du Réel Festival (International Competition) to present his latest effort: Kombinat [+see also:
film profile], a film that’s at once delicate and powerful and which speaks of a Russia which is wrestling with the ghosts of the past; a past (and, sadly, a present) which has been suppressed by the authoritarian government which leaves no space for personal reflection. In his third feature film, Tejedor once again winds his way into the interstices of Russia, seemingly familiar with many of its secrets. This is a complex and multi-faceted land where the new generation are fighting with all their might to preserve a culture which seems to be disappearing, yielding ground to a level of productivity which can no longer be described as human.
Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the heart of Russia, lives by the frenetic rhythm of the smokestacks towering above the immense Kombinat plant, for decades the biggest steel mill in the Soviet Union and one of the greatest in the world. Lena, a young mum and daughter of metalworkers, teaches salsa in a school welcoming many of those employed by the factory and which has become, over the years, one of the most popular recreational spots for workers in the region. Sasha is one of them, a Kombinat slave by day and a committed dancer by night. His brother Guenia and his wife, meanwhile, are looking to leave the city in order to escape the pollution that is a sad part of their everyday lives and which is causing their daughter serious health problems.
In their own way, each of the protagonists in Tejedor’s latest film ask themselves what will be of their future and what it is that still ties them to a city which is fast turning into a dangerous prison. Is it still possible to dream of a better future in a world where humanity comes second to productivity? What right do we have to destroy an entire community, its culture and its history in the name of a level of consumerism which now surpasses the grotesque?
From the past to the present, from one season to the next, the young Swiss director displays courage and poeticism in his depiction of a new generation of workers who wish to free themselves from Kombinat’s suffocating vice, but who still haven’t found the courage to do so, despite the (pollution-based) danger following them around like a famished wolf. They live their lives by the rhythm of the factory, which dictates the social, economic and political status quo in a seemingly unstoppable, capitalistic frenzy.
Tejedor gets up-close and personal with these youngsters who long to dream of a different, more humane and freer Russia. The shots of Kombinat are aesthetically powerful, filmed as if the factory were a tentacled monster with a metallic shell, and contrasting sharply with the intimate poetry of the scenes showing Lena, Sasha and Guenia with their families.
The music and singing coming from a voice which seems to hail from an imaginary land merge with nigh-on dreamlike moments, which reveal the inside of the factory, the workers arriving by bus at night and the pool next to the Kombinat plant where bathers immerse themselves despite the risk of contamination. Kombinat is a film that’s both intimate and universal, which shows us the beauty hidden behind the sheet metal and the humanity nestling behind the grotesque mask of productivity and exploitation.
(Translated from Italian)
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