Moscow's Mean Girls

2morrow.ruThe heroines of Gai Germanika's film inhabit a troubled world.
Life is rough in "Everybody Dies But Me," the debut feature from Valeria Gai Germanika. Gai Germanika has made documentaries and short films on the subject of youth before, and she returns to the theme in her latest work, which went via the Cannes film festival and on to other international festivals this year. Along the way, it earned considerable acclaim, most recently garnering an ensemble acting award at last week's 2Morrow2 Moscow festival.

The praise is well-deserved because Germanica's film has considerable drive, even while its characters are treated empathetically. It may play off a certain tradition of Soviet documentary work -- most reminiscent of Juris Podnieks' 1980s documentary, "How Difficult It Is to be Young" -- but this style has been updated for a 21st-century feature film.

Teenagers Katya, Vika and Zhanna (Polina Filonenko, Agnia Kuznetsova and Olga Shuvalova) are teenagers in a school located outside the center of Moscow. They have different problems and different ways of reacting to them. For one, it's violence at home; for another, the death of a much-loved cat. The last might sound frivolous, but it's a moving moment in the film. Such simple things can speak emotional volumes in the universe of Gai Germanika's film.

The main characters' teachers don't come across as very sympathetic, highlighting the generation gap. Classroom excitement is enhanced by a Saturday night school disco, which is put at risk by plot developments surrounding one of the three heroines.

It's an emotionally troubled world, an atmosphere engendered by both the nature of the struggles endured by teenagers while growing up -- and finding, after various thorny encounters, that they are now adults -- as well as by the surrounding societal context. It's not, however, that old staple of the perestoika era chernukha, which might be loosely translated as "willful darkness." Rather, it's an all-too-persuasive picture of life as it really is, with considerable moments of humor among the darker scenes.

The feature is visually dark as well, with considerable hand-held camera work from Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev and a generally subdued color scheme. The cinematographer, who has largely made documentary films, has blossomed in the fiction genre with the likes of Sergei Mokritsky's "Four Ages of Love." He's developed a strong style, next to be seen in Alexei German Jr.'s new "Paper Soldiers." It's a case of the director and cinematographer's tastes seeming to interact almost perfectly.

It's an energetic but arduous ride, but one that leaves a sense of hope for catharsis. It's a film about growing up in a world that, much like the themes in similar perestroika-era works, is itself unpredictable. Much of the surrounding world is dysfunctional, but there is the sense that all or some of the three main characters will get through it somehow, either through friendship or simply through strength of personality. In "Everybody," life somehow works out.