Russian Film Week II: Attraction (2017)

attraction-trailer5

Attraction is a seismic outburst of a movie. Like many of the science fiction pictures that have pervaded the history of cinema, its lens is sharply focused on the illumination of a prevalent issue and theme. In the pre-screening Q&A, director Fyodor Bondarchuk cited the 2013 Birylyova riots as a source of inspiration for the film. The South Moscow riots emerged out of outrage over the death of a 25-year-old man, who was believed to have been killed by a migrant. Bondarchuck was struck by the unprecedented amount of aggression that he witnessed during the course of the few days of the capital spread event.

Consequently, the film’s various riot scenes have this frightening sense of historical realism and fervency: as the local civilians violently demonstrate their anger over the destruction and loss of life in the wake of an extraterrestrial ship crash over their suburb. The main character Yulia Lebedeva (Irina Starshenbaum) is an encapsulation of the citizen’s aggressive attitude towards the alien being as she vehemently speaks out against attempting to understand the foreign being because of guilt over her friend’s death during the incident.

The rest of the film feels like a pressure cooker of boiling tension as government and military authorities attempt to plan a course of action against the alien being. This is juxtaposed with Yulia’s budding intimate relationship with the space-based visitor. The latter stretch of the film successfully conveys the emotions of adolescent romance with an endearingly sweet dignity. At the same time, it also provides the film with a dialogue between the blind rage in reacting against the fear of the unknown and the personal revelatory knowledge that can be gained from the bonds of trust.

Aesthetically, the picture owes an enormous debt to Neil Blomkamp’s science fiction picture- District 9 with its grimy and ashened portrait of devastated urban environments. In one scene, there is even an homage to the found footage aesthetic of the first twenty minutes of the 2009 film, which comes from a character watching a YouTube video comprised of news footage, fictional interviews and video from surveillance cameras of the reported water shortage in the capital city.

Despite its six million dollar budget, Attraction’s visual effects and portrayal of other-worldly beings are quite impressive. In particular, the alien ship is striking in its design. From a slanted angle, it looks like a black and silver cyber infused version of Saturn. More crucially, it looks like a mobile cybernetic eye that in its design captures the paranoia of Russia’s totalitarian past. The central robotic suit has a fascinating design insofar as its glossy, sleek design contrast with its freeing movement that makes it seem like it’s a creature as opposed to a robotic entity.

Bondarchuk also revealed through the course of the Q&A that he was also inspired by Arrival. In this regard, the film falls short. Even in its most emotional scenes, Attraction never has the utterly transcendent quality of Arrival, which came from that film’s emotionally resonating and intellectually nourishing ending. In fact, while the film authentically captures the angst, frequent cases of sudden euphoria and general belligerence of the adolescent experience. Ultimately, it feels as though the themes and moral of the narrative possess the same one-note nature of a teenage outburst, all-consuming at the moment but nevertheless hopelessly naive and unnuanced.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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