Russia | 108 MINUTES | Russian |
At the center-and in every scene-of Simple Things is Sergei Maslov, an anesthetist suffering from a sense of failure only aggravated by his cramped St. Petersburg apartment and financial troubles. Marvelously played by theater director Sergei Puskepalis in his first film role, Maslov is emotionally detached but surrounded by people with whom he must interact on a daily basis. We meet him just as his attempts at an affair with a receptionist at his clinic crumble-at the same time that his teenage daughter runs away with her boyfriend and his wife announces that she's unexpectedly pregnant. However, a side gig for extra cash-giving an acerbic old actor injections for his pain-opens the way to a fragile but potentially life-changing friendship. Director Aleksei Popogrebsky steers clear of both melodrama and high drama, choosing instead a humor-laced approach to storytelling that is refreshingly straightforward-playfully inventive dialog, an abundance of absorbing details, probing close-ups, and a vérité-like moving camera. The result is surprisingly rich: Maslov could easily be an idealized Everyman struggling to get by, but in Popogrebsky's hands he becomes pleasingly specific and real, his concreteness as a human being imbuing the film with more meaning than any imposed message or moral. Winner of most of the major prizes at the 18th Kinotavr Film Festival (Russia's foremost film event) and various prizes at other festivals, Simple Things is the second film from a director who studied to be a psychologist before turning to cinema. Such an education is certainly no guarantee of success in filmmaking, but in Popogrebsky's subtle yet remarkably assured direction, we can sense a distinct delight-paired with a remarkable acuity-in observing and pondering how people interact.