At the Edge of Russia
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At the Edge of Russia

Michal Marczak (Poland, International Spectrum)
Saturday, April 30, 6:30 p.m.
Cumberland 2 (159 Cumberland Street)
Tuesday, May 3, 1:15 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Friday, May 6, 7:00 p.m.
Cumberland 2 (159 Cumberland Street)

Giving a new meaning to coming from the land of ice and snow, At the Edge of Russia journeys to the very place its title promises: a Russian border outpost located in farthest reaches of that massive country. Though the focal point is initially a young recruit, Aleksey, the other guards soon become equally fascinating (if not more so) characters as the film develops into a larger meditation on the concept of nationhood.
One of the most striking features of Michal Marczak’s film is that there is no engagement with the camera. This is assuredly partly achieved through deft editing but also evokes films such as Ulrich Seidl’s Models (though here without the blow, gratuitous nudity and, well, models). How did they do it? In an extremely small and enclosed space, not only Aleksey but all the men ignore the camera, going on about their routines (both military and personal), eventually opening up and exposing their personalities.
But the most poignant scene in the film is the only one that is scored. As the men prepare to salute Russia on Victory Day (by busily cleaning the outpost, polishing their boots, and shaving for some unseen audience) they line up outside in the cold to salute the flag. The sound of the Russian national anthem swells from a tinny tune playing on a cassette player within the shot to a full blown orchestra—Russia, as a nation and as a nationality, fills the scene. Yet, we never once see its borders, buried beneath the snow and remaining intangible.
Quiet, yet at times effortlessly funny and touching, At the Edge of Russia manages to not only take its audience to a far off place, but asks them to think about just what the concept and meaning of this place might be.