Morality is at question in Russian film ‘The Fool’


courtesy of Olive Films

Artyom Bystrov (Dima Nikitin) in The Fool (2014). Image courtesy of Olive Films.

Natalie Whalen, Contributing writer

Leaving you both disturbed and awed — in the best way — Yury Bykov’s “The Fool” will premiere this Wednesday at Film Forum.” The Cannes-nominated director spares no truth in this shock-value, painfully realistic drama about rampant corruption in Russia under Vladmir Putin. While potentially too horrific for the average filmgoer, Bykov’s mesmerizing visual style and poignant script leave the viewer with a murky and ruminative point of view on the realities of modern Russian politics.

The film centers on a simple plumber, Dima (Artyom Bystrov), who discovers that a local 800-resident dormitory building is about to collapse during a routine pipe fixing. Dima’s conscience ultimately leads him to seek out the town’s mayor, Nina Galaganova (Natalya Surkova), in order to have her evacuate the building and relocate the inhabitants. Dima is regarded as a fool by many — including his own wife and mother — for his benevolent way of being: he does not lie, cheat or steal and puts the well being of others before his own family’s — a rarity amongst poor and rich alike.

Although slow in parts, the narrative will keep you guessing and the denouement will leave you perplexed. A 116-minute run time could have been cut down by 15 minutes during long (yet visually stunning) runs through the snow and lingering conversation between government members. As the drama unfolds, an extremely anti-Russian screenplay creates disturbed sentiment amongst those mistakenly wishing for a happy ending.

Though it’s a talk-heavy drama, viewers are kept on the edge of their seats with driving dialogue and excellent performances. Surkova delivers an especially compelling and multi-faceted performance, as her character slowly devolves from a powerful town matriarch into a well-oiled puppet at the mercy of farther reaching figureheads.

The concept of family is also dynamically questioned through the protagonist’s stressed rapport with his parents and wife. Dichotomies such as compassion in a compassionless world and communism versus republic are intriguingly examined: how does one operate in a world where each man is truly out for himself, and the powerful have no mercy for those without? Furthermore, we are tested as to what separates us from animals in a world where we do not act with any form of decency towards others?

“The Fool” (in Russian, titled “Durak”) was a multiple prizewinner at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and is truly a treat for those willing to question even the most widely accepted truths about morality and humanity as a whole.
“The Fool” premieres this Wednesday at Film Forum.

Email Natalie Whalen at [email protected].