Big Isn't Always Best

Kinopoisk.ruIvan (Konstatin Lavronenko) stars in the big budget "Terra Nova"
The flavor of the week looks, well, bizarre. Already on release is "Closed Spaces" (Zakrytiye Prostranstva) a small-scale black comedy that is a debut work by a director credited as Igor Vorskla, better known as Igor Lebedev, who has long been involved with one of Russia's better small-scale film distributors, Drugoye Kino. For reasons not entirely clear, he gets a producer credit under the latter moniker.

And the result is something of a puzzle, too, though one that is frequently very funny, and quirky throughout.

The context of story may take some believing in. The heroine, Vika (Masha Mashkova), is a young pizza delivery girl with attitude. A normal delivery job goes distinctly upside-down when the client Venya (Leonid Bichevin), roughly her contemporary, locks her in his flat and says he's going to rape her.

That never comes off, but the result is a weirdly psychological play-off between him and his potential victim. The film isn't over-long, so what might have become forced doesn't, and some unexpected story developments in the last part certainly keep interest up. Revealing them would spoil the experience, but they are certainly strange, though to say, as some international critics have done, that it's an assertion of post-Soviet youth angst, looks distinctly overstated. You may warm to it or not, but it looks a refreshingly cheaply shot film, relying mostly on a single location, and it's very well filmed.
Venya (Leonid Bichevin) takes Vika (Masha Mashkova) hostage in "Closed Spaces."
Which cannot be said about another debut director's release "Terra Nova" (Novaya Zemlya) by Alexander Melnik. Though it's also very well shot, and about a very different form of cruelty, any similarity ends there. Not least because it's a big-budget work, which presumably aspires to the blockbuster market. Whether it will get there is a very moot question.

On many fronts it delivers the effects, albeit as a trope of similar international read, Hollywood fare. Set sometime in the future, it plays a fight-to-the-death game among a group of prisoners, who choose to be sent up onto a remote Arctic island rather than spend the rest of their lives working out their sentences.

The hero is convict Ivan Zhilin (Konstantin Lavronenko, from Andrei Zvyagintsev's "The Return" and "The Banishment"); it's a surprise role for a very discerning actor, and leaves the assumption that it helped his bank account considerably.

Within the pack of prisoners sent out into the middle of nowhere, particular loyalties and decisive oppositions develop. Zhilin duly bonds with the distinctly off-the-wall Nikolai (Andrei Feskov).

Fatalities and hostilities grow by the episode, but a script by Arif Aliyev, best known for his collaboration with director Sergei Bodrov on the likes of his impressive "Prisoner of the Mountains" from the mid 1990s, as well as more recent "Mongol," frankly doesn't impress or maybe it was just butchered in the realization.