On a thing forgotten like. “Donkey”, director Anatoly Vasilyev

On a thing forgotten like. "Donkey", director Anatoly Vasilyev

“Donkey”, director Anatoly Vasilyev

In connection with the screening of the film by Anatoly Vasiliev at the Moscow International Film Festival on April 24, we publish a review of Veronika Khlebnikova from 1/2 issue of the magazine "THE ART OF CINEMA" this year.


“A donkey”

Scriptwriter, director Anatoly Vasilyev

Operators Alexandra Kulak, Ruslan Fedotov, Salvatore Warbaro

Composer Giovanni Sollima

Trikita Entertainment AG



But being for the beast is infinite

And clean, like the space in front of him.

Rilke. “Duin Elegies”

In the film “The Donkey” of the theatrical director Anatoly Vasilyev, the possibility of updating the artistic form becomes the main story. Painting in format work in progress – laboratory work, is called an allegory. Digital cameras in the hands of Alexandra Kulak, Ruslan Fedotov and Salvatore Warbaro are a convenient and flexible tool for shooting animals, especially donkeys, creatures very mobile when they want. Moving the donkey in the frame and related objective difficulties make up the plot of each of the eight novels of the film, ascetic and yet tense, as it is almost impossible to achieve anything from the donkey by coercion. The donkey is not as obedient as the spectator, he avoids attempts to direct him to the direction, rests on all the limbs. And with special perseverance, one sits on the hind legs and does not want to be an allegory. To the existing novels of the “Donkey” Vasiliev intends to add others and bring the duration of the picture to twelve pieces against the current eight. At the same time, an open – fashionable – structure does not prevent the picture in its current version from looking like a classically finished product.

Allegory is one of the simple (in comparison with the metaphor) tropes, and the film is also arranged simply. The chronic image of donkeys indulging in their natural activities in their inherent rhythm is interrupted by black glueing with replicas from Pirandello, Aeschylus, Heiner Muller, Apuleius, but more often from Tonino Guerra, who found himself in philosophical lyrics. This violence over the image corresponds to the physical compulsion of the donkey in the frame and is subject to a certain rhythm. Replicas burst the mimicry for monotony and lengthy visual series. And sometimes they crash into an honest, in a good way, a long plan. The net duration on the screen is a little, more often it is skillfully imitated, but individual plan-episodes in their continuity pleases, like long fragments of films by Abhichphong Virasetakun. In the plays of Vasilyev, we remember, bursts of remarks, broken actor’s intonations.

It is not easy here, it seems, is the very subject of allegory. In the “Donkey” is not meant the foolish donkey stubbornness, priapic rudeness, civilization in the stall or any metamorphosis of the donkey in the consciousness of culture. Rather, the allegory here refers to the very identity of art, which is sought not by donkey ears, of course, but some new grounds, since the former have been worked out, including because of the overproduction of symbolic reality – the one where it is more expensive not to catch the image from the outside world, but to get a drop of life from a heap of signs, images, references and interpretations.

Anatoly Vasilyev conjugates in the “Donkey” the form and formless, inhuman reality of the animal. These are the heroes.

In the film, three visible forces are involved: a man, a donkey and a bridle between them. And many more images – invisible, external to the cinematographic fabric. These images, which do not require emergency visualization, come to life only by naming the donkeys, among them Pirandello, Ulysses and Sentence; in the names of the chapters-novels: “Bacchus”, “Medea”, “Exodus”; in intertitre-quotations.

The word is wedged into the image, updating the Kuleshov effect. We do not need to glue the head and ax, the symbolic reality is so strong that it’s enough to write on the screen: “Colchis”, “Corinth”, “Medea” – and the steps of the colt of donkey in the wasteland will turn into a tragic procession, and the cattle stalled half way up – the rebellious queen. The spectator of the “Donkey” is given a full opportunity and feel like an ass, brushing away texts that violate the slow animal rhythm, and correlate with cultural codes, chains of the genome “heroes-god-masks”.

If you wish, you can find an autobiographical context in the Osl. Anatoly Vasiliev in different years worked in the theater with lyrics of plays “Six characters in search of the author” Pirandello, “Medea. Material »Heiner Muller. The director, who did a lot for the resuscitation of the theater from ossified aesthetic codes and faded poetics, frees warm, shuddering donkey croup from the dead weight of words. Almost approaching the ontology of a thing forgotten under the “cultural layers”.

On a thing forgotten like. "Donkey", director Anatoly Vasilyev“A donkey”

The travesty of high-flown texts and a wordless creature leads to an unexpected effect. Reality resists naming, cramps literature, the donkey dislodges texts, “through us the silent beast looks calmly.”

The event of the play and play Medea. Material »Muller and Vasiliev was a liberation from civilization, her clothes thrown into the fire, acceptance of formlessness. From a play written without punctuation, sometimes even without gaps, a cinematography, among others, left the remark: “I would like to remain an animal which I was when a man still did not make me his wife.”

Medea looks back at the world where she is in a “barbarian” state, that is, she belongs to the natural world, to civilization, and her “desire” montage “coincides” with the resistance of the donkey, which refuses to go with the curly athlete. Even earlier, at the end of the first novel, Tonino Guerra’s verse unambiguously expresses the wish: “I would like words without communication, devoid of stories, to listen to people saying goodbye to the world, greeting the last”, as if Vasilyev himself would be glad not to let the form take place, to cure, to coincide with the certainty of values.

In its limit, the formality of the word is strengthened by the fact that it does not sound, but is enclosed in intertitles. Sounding speech is used in the second novel “Bacchus”, where in a vineyard a well-fed human child reads Italian from the cookbook of life with an effort, deliberately stammering, constantly turning “mincemeat” into a “farce” while the donkey-child revels in fresh grape leaves . Here in the morning (morning of civilization) everything is still innocent and ambivalent, it belongs as if to a children’s game.

In the fourth, conditionally “neo-realistic” short story “Palio”, filigree from the point of view of craft, a travestized sports commentary sounds. He accompanies carnival races on donkeys, filmed as an action-packed reportage of the “Formula” from the 60’s, when both car racing and reports were news. Carnival equates man and animal, the conflict seems to be removed.

In seven novels, donkeys are the protagonists of the non-reasoning being of matter, even when they are taken out of the habitual medium to the proscenium of the city-world-theater-word. But already in the eighth story, in the final “Exodus”, these are tiny symbols taken to the furthest level by the power of sophisticated human despotism – poetry.

In every story between man and donkey, a pantomime of violence and resistance is played out, which reflects the situation of the “realistic” and “symbolic” conflict in different types of text – from the chronicle on the farm to prayer, travestized, like a sports report. A worn out word is often worn out or comes to naught, when it comes into contact with a powerful spectacle of nothing but itself, which does not represent the ass of nature.

The donkey has already been a conductor of new art and a character, also, by the way, in search of the author – in Robert Bresson’s film “Naudachu, Balthasar.” For the first time the director did not order the animal to personify human virtues and vices. Unlike the “Metamorphosis” of Apuleius, where a man was hiding in the skin of a donkey, Bresson, and now Vasiliev under a donkey’s skin, has no other mystery other than a life that is not fed by allegories, but bunches of green that straighten out of the masonry of the amphitheater. Christian Bresson made Balthazar’s donkey a measure of things. The inhuman nature was a measure by which the baseness of a person’s soul was determined, first lost its angelic nature, and then lowered below the cattle.

On a thing forgotten like. "Donkey", director Anatoly Vasilyev“A donkey”

Vasiliev starts a multifaceted carnival of the human and animal at a time when any nature is replaced by rhetoric, a backup copy of being. A donkey, always coerced, A man who is always forcing, and a bridle between them are placed in the space of culture, become raw materials for the factory. This makes living beings and simple, understandable objects in allegory, metaphors and fiction. It transfers them from a single reality into the eternal world of the language, illuminated by the imagination, in order to examine in detail how the donkey and fiction, the epic and the drama interact. It is there that the “donkey stubbornness” flourishes, the “ears of King Midas” hang, the archetypal sadness of Eeyore flows over the thistle.

There you can be born at the same time as the ass of Pirandello and the character of Pirandello. Only there it is possible to free the donkey from the yoke of literature and if not return to Bresson, then erase what is called random features and see if the donkey is moving from the spot. To see where he delivers us, whether the allegory of freedom will turn into an allegory of captivity, where the person is and everything that he is capable of thinking is with him.

In the “Prayer to go to heaven with donkeys” by Maître Zhamma, cited in one of the novella “Donkey”, the truth, in another translation, says:

I’ll take my cane, I’ll go the big way

And on the way to donkeys, my friends, I will say:

I’m called Jamm Francis, I’m going straight to heaven,

Then that the Lord does not have hell in the country.

Come to heaven with me, friends of azure days!

But we will go to the slaughterhouse.

In the “Asthenic Syndrome” by Kira Muratova, a documentary survey of a canine sniffer was completed by an intertitle: “People do not like to look at it. People do not like to think about this. This should not be related to talking about good and evil. “

In the Donkey there will be real-time death, a hook overturned by a dead muzzle carcass, and then a naked plowed field, along which one figure habitually chases the other, and an eternity will go so that the third figure of the four-footed, unsteadily, crossed the frame alone.

The film will swing into the ultimate symbolism, the distance of view will turn everything into silhouettes. The very conflict of the symbolic and the existential will seem to change, and the last “foray” of the word will seem a retreat – what is paradise? – no black background for the text, no identification, only sadness about the lost, forgotten, undying or insoluble, like a donkey that has ceased to be you. Or – a hypothetical paradise of a person, because with a man that is a paradise for an ass.

The renewal of the cinematographic form continues under the sign of the phenomenon of “postdok” (the term of Zarya Abdullayeva). In postdok, the proportions of the real and the imaginary, the objective and the subject fluctuate, they are impermanent, determined intuitively and each time unique. A whole is opposed to the definition of game / non-game. Although it is located in such a territory.

It is ridiculous to compare, however, another similar film of 2017, “Monkey, Ostrich and Grave” by artist Oleg Mavromatti with its unsteady, reflected conflict, is also arranged in the same way, the reliability of which is due to the extreme conventionality of direction. The monkey in Mavromatti’s painting is painted, but she is in an unquestionable relationship to our donkey, who became a victim of fiction in Vasilyev’s film and an agent of resistance.

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