*Received the Silver St. George Award for Best Director at the 38th Moscow International Film Festival*
*The prize of the Russian film critics jury for the best film in the Main Competition at the 38th Moscow International Film Festival *
37 COMPETETION DIR. PUK GRASTEN
For her debut, Puk Grasten chose a story that is both simple and tricky to direct: the murder of Kitty Genovese that more than 50 years ago. Her name entered many books on psychology since. “Genovese syndrome” describes situations when bystanders do not offer victims of an emergency they are witnessing any means of help and pretend nothing is happening. Filmmakers have used the effect itself and plots based on the Queens story, with 37 vigilant neighbours who failed to come to the woman’s aid, more than once. Lucas Belvaux, for example, set the story in Normandy and called his film “38 Witnesses” instead of 37, distancing himself from the original event. Compared to him, Puk Grasten might appear pointedly literal. She seems to balance on the verge of journalism, which would have transferred to the screen the obvious and thus boring rhetoric of the 1964 American newspapers: the world is going to the dogs, people have lost the ability to sympathize, “homo homini lupus est” and so on. What really happens is quite different and unexpected, and thus interesting. The reason the literal adaptation of Kitty Genovese’s murder would be tricky is that the essence of the Genovese syndrome diverges from its original source. The story of 37 either frightened or indifferent neighbours turned out to be more or less a hoax. Several people did notice something weird going on but failed to realize it was a murder. And this gives Puk Grasten a lucky chance to avoid the collision with the journalistic approach at the last moment and speed away to the impressionist lands, turning “37” into a tale of a director’s freedom to mix utterly different traditions under the cover of a sacred, like the Founding Fathers, story. Fragmentary anxiety of what the neighbours really saw, allows to resort to all the tools of a supernatural thriller. There are looks, and then there are looks, just like there are gestures, and there are gestures – and soon all Puk Grasten’s characters are haunted by paranoid visions, hang around empty porches, listen to each other’s silence behind the door, and none of it has anything to do with the murder outside. All the specific opportunities of the condominium are used here ingenuously and even with a certain humour. The pipes are singing, neighbours’ voices are audible through the thin walls, loud music is annoying. Thank God no one is beating on the radiator. However, this film was obviously created not just to play with the stylizations. The powerful charge of the original story confines Puk Graster within the limits of a social statement, but the message she conveys is different. Children are the only ones who literally, physically try to drag the adults to the windows. Troy’s father tries to teach him to fight, and mother – to dance; judging by how desperately the frightened boy clings to a doll, a self-identification crisis is brewing. Depressed Debby has lost her mother, she worries other girls don’t want to play with her, keeps something like a diary and lives with her slightly demented grandmother. Billy grows up with a father who resembles all known serial killers at once, and the reference to “American Beauty” is the only positive trait in his character. These people never sleep, eating away at each other with their fears and insomnia. So if not poor Kitty Genovese, someone else would have died by the morning anyway, because you simply can’t live in a place like this.
Igor Savelyev (filmcritic)