Eyforiya (Euphoria, 2006)
A tragic romantic story set in the immense Russian steppe. A theatrical experience told by Ivan Vyrypaev in pure cinematic language.
A new generation of filmmakers is becoming better known in recent years in Russia in the wave of New Russian Drama. Due to their common theatrical background, these artists may initially seem free from the obsessions of classic Russian cinema although they tend to return to them in order to reform them. Ivan Vyrypaev is one of the main representatives of this wave. He is a known and acclaimed stage director and writer, with works that had international success, such as Kislorod (Oxygen) and Bytie No.2 (Genesis No.2). In 2006 he directed his first feature film Eyforiya / Эйфория (Euphoria). The film competed at the 63rd Venice Film Festival and Vyrypaev was awarded with the Little Golden Lion.
The story is set in a secluded and remote area of Russian steppes. A goat shepherd, Pasha (Maksim Ushakov) meets Vera (Polina Agureyeva) at a wedding and he immediately feels that he falls in love with her. A week later, they are meeting again by chance and Pasha expresses his feelings to Vera but she doesn’t even remember their initial encounter. Soon enough, Vera realizes that she likes him back and that she wants to be with him. Unfortunately she is already married to a distant and harsh man, Valery (Mikhail Okunev) and they have a little daughter, Masha. Inevitably Vera should decide what would be the right solution for her problem.
Initially the story seems that follows the completely classic and archetypical pattern of the love triangle dramas but this should be seen by a Russian perspective. In contrast to a typical drama, in Euphoria there is no real hero. All the protagonists are equally and de facto antiheroes and what’s even worse, is that if one of them must take action, then he or she becomes a potential enemy. On the basis of the Russian drama, every act has a bad interpretation and only the negative effects are presented. So the more dynamic presence a character has the more inimical becomes. If it is also considered that the isolated steppe is an ideal place for the development of even more intense emotions then the results could be catastrophic. A combination of geographic and social exclusion with the stronger emotions and reactions would naturally create more enemies.
Vyrypaev’s differentiated perspective of the drama is also catalytically affected by the region’s nature. Even though he doesn’t add something extremely revolutionary to the already known tragic theme he manages to approach it in a highly attractive way. The director, who also wrote the screenplay, delivers a minimalistic version of a theoretically strict drawing room play which is paradoxically set in the immense but uniformly harmonized nature of the Russian steppe. So contrary to the established tradition, Vyrypaev places his characters on a natural “stage” that is so many times bigger than them and which sometimes could even swallow them.
By not constraining his heroes, Vyrypaev has the necessary freedom to focus exclusively on their relationships. This attempt, in combination with his effort to become even more abstractive, have as a result his protagonists to lose gradually their physical existence and thus looking insignificant against the inevitable orders of their fates. Minimalism and abstraction are so dominant that they both affect the dialogues and the intensity of the actors’ performances too. The music also serves perfectly that path as the score by Aidar Gainullin is a repetitive and slightly mutated musical motif by the sounds of bayan accordion that changes its rhythm accordingly to the emotional status of each scene. So everything seems so balanced and without any aesthetic excess that could overshadow the feelings that should be captured.
There is only one field where Vyrypaev decides not to be sparing and this is the vastly impressive use of the image. It seems that he allows himself to use every mean possible in the most excessive way, but he does that extremely well. With the help of the picturesque cinematography by Andrey Naydenov, the film is overflowed with light and color that is so impressionistic overwhelming and also reminds the aesthetics of the Soviet lyricism of the previous century. Everything is presented so idyllically and especially the one-shots, that are dividing the drama in different acts, are outstanding. Even the most arid parts of the steppe are depicted so richly and the imposing river Don can wash everything out. It is essential that in such a dramatic story, the director dares to capture the viewer’s gaze primarily to his picture. His effort is not pretentious and doesn’t add any distance between the viewer and the film, in contrary he succeeds to invite him to step on this gigantic theatrical stage that he has created in the middle of the steppe.
Vyrypaev doesn’t want and doesn’t try at any point to hide his theatrical background and of course his ability to set an entire drama anywhere. For him it is a challenge to transfer his theatrical rigor in an environment that is so difficultly controlled. In achieving his goal, apart from his own experience, his actors are equally assisting. The performances by the theater veterans Polina Agureyeva and Mikhail Okunev and the amateur actor Maksim Ushakov are completely bonding with the needs of the film. Euphoria achieves to pass from one art to another with a natural and most importantly understandable way. Vyrypaev’s technique is so distinctively characteristic especially when he manages to maintain the aesthetics of the dramaturgical theatrical acts within the linear narrative of the film without covering his pure cinematic language. So Euphoria could be an excellent milestone on how theater could appear on film.
Finally, there is one fair question on Vyrypaev’s decision to use the word Euphoria as the title of his tragic romantic story and the director gives his explanation: “This is the story of an unexpected love, authentic and relentless, almost barbaric. The heroes, since they have never been taught on how to love and be loved, cannot manage the Euphoria that has conquered them.”