Watching


Number two: Nikita Lavretski

It is easier for me to describe my sensations from the films by the Belorussian filmmaker Nikita Lavretski as a pharmacological effect of medications. Light attacks of inconvenience and shame are possible, waves of surprise may sweep over your body; a feeling of discomfort is not excluded. Something breaks down in a viewer’s organism: excessive arrogance disappears (the feeling of power over the cinema picture), and the ideas of good quality get erased, too. Things are different every time we see a new film by Lavretski. The feeling of discomfort approaches us from the other side, surprise rises as at first, and discomfort becomes exacerbated.

One of Lavretski’s recent works is a series of a diary-style casual sketches united by an exhaustive title "Several Scenes with my Girlfriend Olechka Kovaleva", arouses a feeling of hatred after 15-20 minutes of watching the film. You can hate the film for excessive intimacy, seemingly not intended for outsiders’ eyes; for excessive closeness — Nikita all the time brings the camera right to the face of Olechka Kovaleva or turns the zoom to slide by a wound on her little finger; for intrusiveness and violence: even when Olechka insists on turning off the camera, the cameraman will continue shooting the uncomfortable, inconvenient, conflicting moments of her personal life; you may hate the film simply for your inability to understand why you are watching these strange pieces of another person’s life. You can hate it to finally fall in love with it.

Strange as it may seem, you will fall in love not with lovable Olechka. And not even with the cameraman Nikita Lavretski, as they both do not wish anybody to fall in love with them. Nikita is not a Woody Allen-type filmmaker, and he does not charm the audience with his personal neuroticism. She is not Greta Gerwig, trading patented sincerity and fluffy-toy sweetiness. What impresses us and makes us believe in it is reality itself, its variety and vivacity in its minute and absurd manifestations.

Recognizing the special vigor of this footage, I stumble up my first objection — isn’t this private video too intimate to be widely distributed? The answer is no. Thinking seriously about it, home video no longer belongs (has never belonged) to the world of home things, protected and fenced from the outer world. On the contrary, home videos are meant to be watched by a third pair of eyes. Nikita Lavretski demonstrates it already in the second scene of the film. For several minutes, Olechka, despite the insistent Nikita’s persuasion, refuses to repeat a parody phrase, hides her face in a pillow and implores him “not to peep” (meaning, to turn off the camera). She understands, though, that, as the camera comes into action, any privacy is now gone. The home door gets open.

Every awkward gesture of Olechka, every manifestation of life is taken from her by the camera —and this is de-humanization of the home video, about which Nathan Silver knows quite well. However, the power of casual and spontaneous behaviour of Olechka, the power of reality itself preserves its potential due to video. This is transmitted to the viewers: to the friends and family of Olechka, to us strangers, living thousands of kilometers away from Minsk, and to Olechka herself years after. And this is what humanization of the home video is about. This is a wonderful promise that humans will always live.
© Maxim Seleznev

Maxim Seleznev


The program director of the Pobeda cinema in Novosibirsk, the chief editor of the magazine about independent films "Cineticle"

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