Cinematography by: #SvetlanaMakarova
Indie Film Review by: #AndrewMoore
The Lightest Darkness is the debut full length feature from Moscow based, award winning film short director Diana Galimzyanova, and very much a modern-day homage to 1940’s Film Noir. It also has a much-cited reverse chronological order in which the central characters backstories are revealed in backwards (all of course whilst the train and narrative moves forward towards its ultimate destination). Additionally, The Lightest Darkness has been promoted as first female-directed Russian #filmnoir.
In this nefarious tale a murderer is stalking a rail route (with six victims to date) and neurotic Private Detective I.R. Musin (Rashid Aitouganov), who we learn was initially hired to find missing wife Lyubov (Ksenia Zemmel), finds himself sharing a rail cabin with Arina (Irina Gevorgyan). She’s a somewhat abrupt, detached, emotionally distant PhD student computer game programmer who’s in the process of researching for a game about the actual killer himself. The self-referential theme of the narrative (and of course of Noir itself) tows a strong undercurrent throughout the film. There’s also a knowing, quasi-philosophical tone in a lot of the key actors’ dialogues (especially the female characters). The third person sharing this carriage is the equally emotionally distant Elina (Marina Voytuk). Elina is a celebrated concert pianist travelling between concerts with her hotchpotch of beauty accessories.
And thus, a journey begins on a train route which to date has totalled six victims (with a ripe strawberry left next to their bodies by a killer known as The Fruiterer). Strawberries and objects with multiple holes in them (like strawberries) are a bit of a central theme in this film although personally I’m not particularly sure why. That said it does lend itself to the film’s slightly surreal style which itself could be further augmented by the discovery that Private detective I.R. Musin is heavily medicated. A nod towards the film’s slightly misanthropic tone is revealed when we realise the trains conductors (glamorous femme fatales) are doing a roaring trade in souvenirs on the ‘murder express.’
Obviously, in true noir style, we must accept that everything is not quite as it seems. The private detective’s suitcase and another suitcase with some less than savoury contents (shown in the film’s opening shot) are not one of the same and many characters motivations and circumstances are only revealed film during the conclusion of the reverse chronology against the narrative. This film thus plays out that scenario with an unfolding story that usurps the spectator’s initial expectation. Diana Galimzyanova is admittedly a fan of Alfred Hitchcock (it’d be hard to miss this) and there’s very much a feel of his earlier films such as The Lodger (1927) running through The Lightest Darkness. Additionally, there’s a reference to Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). Further to this the film obviously adheres to many of the other traits of 1940’s noir such as the use of props, and glamourous, strong, cold women (femme fatales) against men who seem lost, suffering and of course a deeply flawed Private Eye.
The Lightest Darkness is well edited and beautifully shot in black and white, with characters often offering partially hidden point of view shots or reflected in conversation by mirrors, and this combined with interiors and exteriors used set the films tone perfectly, it works. Then there’s a deeply atmospheric, quietly brooding yet unobtrusive soundtrack superbly augmenting an underlying sense of terror to it all. To this extent I feel the films ultimate stylistic effect creates an almost surreal sense of psychological suspense/terror that goes beyond a mere homage to noir. Look at something like the Lynchian Noir of Inland Empire (2006) and you’ll see what I mean, that wonderfully hypnotic feel that the truth is always one corner more past your perception, something that can hit you on a far more cerebral level. I wouldn’t exactly say the film completely achieves that, but it makes inroads in this direction which make for pleasurable viewing.
A stylistic criticism, and maybe this is just me, of the film is that the mood it creates in relation to a 1940’s noir somewhat jars against that when it’s characters get out their laptops and start facetiming. I haven’t completely worked out for myself yet if it’s because it’s done or just because of how it’s ‘actually’ done. An exception to this is the Private detective I.R. Musin who’s appears a complete anachronism to anything outside the 1940’s as he neurotically sits opposite the game programmer tapping away at her laptop. Maybe it just feels a bit too contemporary after you’ve allowed yourself to be enveloped into the mood and style of the film (which is realised superbly) because I certainly don’t have an issue with this when Noir is combined with the future. Blade Runner (1982) being a painfully obvious choice.
The acting styles are (as noted) quite emotionless and detached. Whether this comes across a bit flat, deadpan and lacking in range or in fact lends itself (in the female actors) to the role of the cold, controlling Russian femme fatales will perhaps depend on how you’d choose to view the overall film and its intentions. Personally, whilst I felt that emotive, overacting would have scuppered the intended mood of The Lightest Darkness I would’ve preferred a little more scope to the acting method and perhaps the dialogue to have been a little more developed between characters in places. The slightly nebulous nature of film may possibly be less to do with style and more to patchy elements of the narrative and does the actual murderer (when revealed) have a strong enough role within the parameters of the film (perhaps a little more back story on her in the reverse chronology wouldn’t have gone amiss). That said we’re talking about a IndieGoGo funded, first full feature for the director, and in that respect we should look less at elements such as the acting ability involved or plotting and in reality at and what is overall a pretty ambitious and impressive project by Diana Galimzyanova which is ultimately realised and has hopefully set out a pretty strong statement of intent for what lies ahead from her. I’d certainly look forward to viewing future projects.
Incidentally, it should be noted that post #filmfestival circuit The Lightest Darkness is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming - I’d recommend giving it a viewing.