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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.01.12] Russia drama

Angelina Nikonova's debut Twilight Portrait begins horribly with the rape of a woman by three police officers. We never find out what happens to the victim after she's left in the woods, the movie never goes back to her and the scene acts only as an unnecessary marker of the brutality and moral corruption of the three men involved.

The cops in question are called away to another part of town where they pick-up Marina, a woman who's run into some bad luck after leaving her lover. She's broken her shoe, her purse has been stolen and she is stranded in an unsavoury neighbourhood. The men pick her up and have their way with her before leaving her in the woods where she's found the next morning and helped home by a good samaritan. She doesn't tell her husband what happened but the event leaves her changed. She begins to frequent a restaurant in the part of town where the police officers picked her up, she complains that her job as a social worker isn't truly helping anyone, she distances herself from friends and after a birthday dinner ends particularly badly, she's convinced by her husband that she needs some time away. Marina has other ideas.

Rather than going to see her mother, she parks herself on a bench outside of Andrei's apartment, Andrei being one of the trio of cops who raped her. He doesn't remember her from the rape, it's not even clear that he participated in the act but simply looked the other way, but the two met a few days earlier when Marina followed him home from a restaurant and the two had a sexual encounter in the elevator of his apartment building. For the next week, Marina and Andrei shack up, she playing house-wife and he lover in a twisted relationship that is unlikely to end well.

Twilight Portrait reveals some interesting facets of Russian life, including the vast divide between the middle and lower class not to mention a police force where corruption and disinterest plague the system but the film's central story is that of Marina and Andrei and their complicated relationship. He is fiercely opposed to a relationship that involves emotions while the reason for Marina being there remains painfully distant. She's obviously unhappy in her marriage but what is she looking for in the man who caused her so much pain? The story never elaborates on what Marina wants from Andrei and simply giving the audience quiet moment after quiet moment in which to contemplate her actions and motivations isn't enough. The moments of reflection need to be earned and the movie doesn't provide enough information for us to reflect on, making these scenes feel long and unnecessary.

For all it's faults, Twilight Portrait isn't without a few good moments. Marina's breakdown at her birthday dinner enters the pantheon of great dinner scenes alongside The Celebration and Rachel Getting Married and her final moment with Andrei, the scene which leads to the film's title, has a spark of something special that is lacking through most of the film. Olga Dykhovichnaya is a fierce performer and she is undoubtedly an international talent to watch but this movie, which she also co-wrote, leaves much to be desired. Not only is it difficult to watch but it also fails to shed any light into any of the complicated characters.

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