Review: Russian Snark
Review by Simon Zhou
Dir. Stephen Sinclair
Na zdorovje! Stephen Sinclair’s directorial debut Russian Snark is like cheap vodka; despite its shortcomings, it will still get you drunk.
Arriving in a small orange submarine, Nadia (Elena Stejko) and Misha (Stephen Papps) are a Russian couple who have come to New Zealand looking for a new life. Misha is a balding, comically unrelenting art film director who shoots black and white images of his naked muse, Nadia, against harsh New Zealand landscapes, whilst Nadia is an aspiring actor, singer, and dancer. When the life that Misha has promised Nadia in New Zealand doesn’t eventuate, and they start to run out of money, they separate and are forced to navigate life as immigrants on their own.
The film is shot on what looks like a minuscule budget. Sets are rudimentary, certain scenes seem like they were shot hurriedly, and the cinematography is on occassion, though unfortunately notably, uninspired amateurish and ugly. This is not to disparage the film; these are simply the unavoidable truths. Yet despite these shortcomings, the film by and large succeeds as an off-beat dramedy because Sinclair has something to say. It might seem like tepid praise, but it is not intended as such. The film has something interesting and unique to say, and it does so sincerely, something that no amount of budget or production value can replace.
There are some fantastic moments of cultural translation (when Nadia inquires about the nature of a job as a stripper, she is told she will have to ‘sing and dance…and reveal a bit, to a very discreet, discerning clientele’) and the film is genuinely funny. There is an interesting question raised in the film about whether it is more important to be a good man or a great artist, and the cost of art on one’s life, but the film shies away from anything too serious (at least, in its treatment of the material) and as such, does not fully explore this question. Conflicts are resolved a little too easily, but the acting carries the film when it needs to, resulting in moments that are strangely, touchingly poignant.
The screening I attended was full of cast and crew, who cheered enthusiastically throughout. In many ways, it felt like a family affair. The film is totally unpretentious, earnestly affable, and without delving too deeply into anything, mostly enjoyable. In the company of the film’s parents, it is easy to forgive their awkward child her flaws.