The art of memory In a new documentary, Russian director Peter Shepotinnik tells a refreshingly optimistic story about the life of Sergey Bodrov Jr.

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Back in September, Sochi’s 2021 Kinotavr Film Festival opened with a screening of a new documentary about the late Russian actor Sergey Bodrov Jr. (the film’s wider release took place on October 7). Written and directed by Russian journalist and film critic Peter Shepotinnik, the documentary tells Bodrov Jr.’s story in an unexpected way: his friends and colleagues paint an optimistic picture of his life, interwoven with that of Alexey Balabanov, the director behind the cult films Brother and Brother 2. The documentary also features original piano compositions by Russian singer and songwriter Vyacheslav Butusov, who not only appeared in Brother but also wrote the music for the film. For Meduza, film critic Anton Dolin describes his impressions from the documentary’s premiere.

In his new documentary, veteran film critic and journalist Peter Shepotinnik presents his protagonists with a question: Is it possible to make an optimistic film about the life of Sergey Bodrov Jr.? Due to this beloved actor and rising director’s tragic death — at the age of 30 — alongside his film crew in the 2002 Kolka–Karmadon rock ice slide, it would seem that the answer to this question couldn’t possibly be “yes.” But for some reason, there’s no doubt that such a picture could be made. And, surely enough, Shepotinnik and his long-time associate, editor, and interviewer Asya Kolodizhner have managed to do just that.

Nowadays, Shepotinnik is not so much a film critic, as a writer and director in his own right, who was deservedly nominated for a Nika Award in 2019. But it’s precisely his journalistic skill that makes the greatest contribution to his new film. Without resorting to over simplification or explanation, and without using narration, he managed to create a picture that speaks to both his generation — those who came of age in the 1990s and who were shaped by the cinema of Alexey Balabanov, Sergey Selyanov, and Sergey Bodrov Jr. — and for today’s youth, who watch the Brother films through different eyes and discover the hero of a previous era as someone human, close, and real. Both this film and its leading character, Danila Bagrov (played by Sergey Bodrov Jr.), are universal phenomena, and this is exactly what Shepotinnik’s simultaneously straightforward and complex documentary shows.

The film’s title, Nas drugikh ne budet (translated as “We Others Will Not”) was borrowed from Joseph Brodsky’s poem In the Mountains — and this is no coincidence. Essentially, it describes the method by which the film was made. It’s merit lies in the integrity of the “we” who become the heroes of the story. This isn’t a memorial documentary about Bodrov Jr. or the late Alexey Balabanov, who is no less a tragic figure. It was thanks to the Brother director, who passed away in 2013, that Bodrov Jr. became a role model for millions (perhaps unfortunately for both of them). But Shepotinnik’s documentary isn’t a history of the creation of Brother and Brother 2 either, although such a “film about the films” could very easily have been cut from the same footage. 

The conceptual and genre boundaries of this seemingly quite traditional documentary, which alternates between commentary and archival footage, are actually fluid and indefinable. Shepotinnik has created a movie about personalities, the strength of which makes it impossible to distinguish between the “real person” and their “on-screen persona.” Many will be shocked to hear how, with his signature crooked grin, Bodrov Jr. — who holds a doctorate in art history — takes credit for Danila Bagrov’s notorious line, “You’re no brother of mine, louse.” (He doesn’t sympathize with the sentiment).

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Even Alexey Balabanov’s most outwardly simple genre films spoke of one thing — the never-ending and inexplicable complexity of any person, be it hitman, doctor, tram conductor, prostitute, or fireman. This same idea is threaded into Shepotinnik’s film: the makeup of the cast — which includes film producer Sergey Selyanov, costume designer Nadezha Vasilieva (Balabanov’s wife), cameraman Sergey Astakhov, and Nautilus Pompilius frontman Vyacheslav Butusov — blurs the line between the categories of witness and participant in the story being told.

The scenery is no less important. In footage shot shortly before his death, Bodrov Jr. gives an interview at the Venice Film Festival (many years later, Balabanov’s last film, the autobiographical and phantasmagorical I Want It Too, will be screened there, earning him the award for Best Director). The ghostly, beautiful canals, palazzos, vaporettos gliding on the water, and the infinite vista of the Piazza San Marco, were a natural environment for Sergey Bodrov Jr., who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Venetian architecture. But Balabanov wanted to take him to Nizhny Novgorod and show him the “real thing” — the works of Russian artist Boris Kustodiev. These opposing environments suddenly become permeable.

The film explores another thread that reconciles these two views — the story of the avalanche that killed Bodrov Jr. and his film crew in North Ossetia-Alania. One of the few survivors, assistant director Dimitry Shibenov, tells this story while walking along a rainy, washed-out road, lost in a desolate landscape — one reminiscent of Russian artist Isaak Levitan’s painting Vladimirka. This road is a way of life, continued even after death thanks to the art of memory and filmmaking. 

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

I’m with you, Meduza

Text by Anton Dolin

Translation by Rebecca Kurk

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