Jerzy Sladkowski (Sweden, Special Presentations)
Wednesday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Thursday, May 5, 11:00 a.m.
The ROM Theatre (100 Queen’s Park)
Sunday, May 8, 6:15 p.m
Innis Town Hall Theatre (2 Sussex Avenue)
Twenty-two-year-old Valya is a single mother working at a small Russian town’s local vodka factory. She lives with her mother, Tatiana, with whom she is in an ongoing feud about caring for her five-year-old son, who is passed off between them like a package. Despite ruthless mocking by the catty crew of women she works with, Valya dreams of becoming an actress in Moscow. Meanwhile, Tatiana has reconnected with an old flame who is looking to rekindle their romance after several decades apart. With Valya’s son to care for, one of the women must sacrifice the dream of changing her life.
Vodka Factory is incredibly bleak. It seems to be taken as a given that all women are trapped, with sex appeal as their only recourse, and all men are abusive alcoholics. These men are merely spectres in the film, where the repeated beatings-into-submission that take place are verbal, woman-on-woman affairs.
The camera’s seamless entry into its subjects’ lives should be the locus of the film’s intimacy, but instead it serves to keep the audience at bay. It just never feels like a documentary. The way that the subjects don’t seem to register the camera’s presence offers the same real-life-staged quality as, say, The Hills (with less cash and California sun, more poverty and muted Russian half-light). Vodka Factory has the makings of a good pathos-filled, melancholic yarn (so, let’s say The Hills crossed with a Dostoyevsky novel), but too often the viewer is taken out of the moment with questions like “But how did they get that shot?” and “Is this really happening?” The film also has poor subtitling: the dialogue reads too formal and stilted, and it’s often hard to tell who is speaking.