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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Land of Deaf Is Last Refuge In Grim Week




I nearly canceled my appointment with Valery Todorovsky. How glad I am that I did not, for my meeting with the young director who made the wonderful film "Land of the Deaf" turned out to be my only source of inspiration this week.


The first news was coming in that some unidentified remains had been found in Chechnya. I had less than an hour with the director in his office at Mosfilm, Russia's answer to Hollywood. By the time I returned to my desk, it was clear the victims were hostages from Britain and New Zealand and, unbelievably, these poor men had had their heads severed. From that moment on, I plunged into grim work.


The humanity and optimism of Todorovsky remained with me, however. One needs these reassurances that not everyone is bad or mad and not all is lost in this seemingly benighted country.


If you have not already seen "Land of the Deaf" at the cinema, you can obtain it now on video. It tells the story of Rita, played by the doe-eyed Tatar actress Chulpan Khamatova, who manages to run away when Russian gangsters capture her boyfriend, Alyosha, and start torturing him for non-payment of a debt. Rita is befriended by a creative deaf girl called Yaya, played by Dina Korzun, who has also suffered at the hands of brutal men. In her strange sign language and broken speech, Yaya tells Rita that somewhere, far away there is a beautiful "land of the deaf" where they can find peace and happiness.


Rita is drawn back to her boyfriend, who belongs to the world of violence. First by experimenting as a prostitute, then by working as "translator" for a deaf gangster called "Pig," she manages to raise enough money to pay off Alyosha's debt, but her good-for-nothing boyfriend loses it all gambling. The film ends with a shoot-out between Pig's gang and the bandits who were holding Alyosha. From the crack of the bullets, Rita either loses her hearing or chooses to seem deaf and finally accepts Yaya's invitation to escape to the "land of the deaf."


The film was made on a relatively small budget. Much of the action takes place on a boat that is normally a floating restaurant on the Moscow River.


After making "Land of the Deaf," his third big movie, Todorovsky, 36, son of the famous director Pyotr Todorovsky, was feeling optimistic about the future of Russian cinema. Then the economic crisis struck.


"Cinema needs stability. It takes at least a year to make a film. And you need audiences with money in their pockets to enjoy it. Now it seems we are back at square one. Yet, I remain an optimist. I love my profession. I cannot live with the feeling that everything is over," said Todorovsky, pulling down his waistcoat and grinning broadly. He is surviving by making new films for the small screen of TV.


I take it that escaping into the "land of the deaf" means rejecting the horror and violence of Russia today. "The land of the deaf could also be the inner self, the life of the spirit," said Todorovsky. "But if you take it that way, I won't argue."


After witnessing the bestiality in Chechnya this week, I want to close my eyes and ears. But I fearthey do not admit journalists to the "land of the deaf."