The Bottomless Bag (2017) Yakhonty Ubystvo **** Russian Film Week 2018
Dir: Rustam Khamdamov | Fantasy Drama | Russia, 2017 | 104′
Akira Kurosawa was not the only auteur to be entranced by the Japanese classic story on which he based Rashomon. Filmmaker turned artist Rustam Khamdamov reimagines ‘In a Grove’ 1922) in a different light, as a truly weird and wonderful folklore fantasy, transported the 19th century Russia of Zsar Nicholas II, and enhanced by its evocative monochrome aesthetic.
This film within a film, stars Svetlana Nemolyaeva as a female courtier who regales the monarch and his empress with stories, the deadlier the better. One day the a fairytale about his son’s mysterious murder, and we experience three different versions of the event, told from , played by iconic Russian film star Svetlana Nemolyaeva, tells the czar a fairy tale about his son’s murder, and we see three different versions of this event.
With echoes of the silent era and references to Russian and European folklore, Khamdamov creates a poetically spellbinding atmosphere of wonder, set in this regal castle deep in the woods near St. Petersburg. But mysterious events are also unfolding in the castle itself. The courtier is looking for a bag of precious jewels (which we see in the hand of a soldier, as the film opens), the palace ghost has concealed the gems in the Christmas tree but is trying to thwart her efforts to relinquish the bag. The courtier is also accused of conspiring with the royal’s assassin. In order to solve the mystery she lies down on a polar bearskin rug and tries to commune with the house spirit, who is hiding in a chandelier. Meanwhile in the forest, a witch (Demidova), drinks her grandson’s urine from a golden bowl, and walks off into the darkness to solve the case. In the end, the courtier discovers the jewels, and leaves the wintry palace on skis, after the servants have stuffed her bag full of everything they can lay their hands on.
The Bottomless Bag actually takes its title from A Thousand and One Nights, Baba Yaga – a witch from Russian legends – is played by Alla Demidova. Sumptious and vaguely ironic, this treasure trove of dreamlike set pieces in a filmic foray into the uncovered depths of Russian culture. The only chagrin is that after his Cannes success with Anna Karamazov (1991) Khamdamov has decided to work exclusively as a visual artist: imagine what Russian cinema is missing without his remarkable talents. AS/MT
SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018