Home International Cinema ‘4’ Movie: Long Journey into Void

‘4’ Movie: Long Journey into Void

4 movie is a cinematic chore

Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s relentlessly bleak feature film debut, 4, starts with a bang and ends with a painfully longwinded whimper. Here, I’m using the word “bang” literally, for the film begins with four dogs lying about on a cold, empty, dark street. The loud noise of an approaching vehicle disturbs the dogs’ peace, as they become increasingly edgy. Something is going to happen. Suddenly, four mechanical legs start a deafening pounding on the pavement, forcing the dogs to scurry away. In all honesty, this reviewer wishes he’d fled along with them, for the film’s next two hours are filled with endless, self-indulgent, and ultimately pointless scenes devoid of either substance or aesthetic value.

According to Khrzhanovsky, 4 was inspired by certain musical compositions, the paintings of Goya and other artists, and the films of art-house directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Andrei Tarkovsky. Unfortunately, unlike Goya or Tarkovsky, Khrzhanovsky fails to create a visual canvas that would add resonance to the hollow verbal exchanges between characters and to the film’s meandering narrative. (That is, if one can refer to the aimless series of sequences that comprise 4 as “narrative.”)

4 movie plot

Initially, the non-plot (by Khrzhanovsky and Vladimir Sorokin) revolves around three people who meet by chance at a bar: a prostitute (Marina Vovchenko), a meat packer (Yuri Laguta), and a piano tuner (Sergei Shnurov). While the bartender dozes off, the sad trio comes up with lies about their professional backgrounds.

The call girl pretends to be a marketing representative for a Japanese company; the meat packer claims that he delivers bottled water to Vladimir Putin, no less; and the piano tuner rattles on about his work with human cloning, claiming that thousands of clones make Russia their home.

Once the rambling conversation ends, the two men basically disappear from the film. At that point, the “story” focuses on the young woman, who travels to a remote village for the burial of one of her sisters. And there the movie dies as well, as 4 becomes so coarsely abstract that Khrzhanovsky seems to be daring his audience to stay in their seats one minute longer.

The significance of the number 4

Admittedly, at times Khrzhanovsky attempts to impart his film with a modicum of significance, but drunken bar chats about identity changes or the magical quality of the number 4 – supposedly the ideal number for the world’s equilibrium – are left undeveloped. For although the number 4 is prominently featured in a number of scenes – e.g., the bar sequence, the four barking dogs, four Russian planes taking soldiers to war (a sequence reminiscent of Milos Forman’s Hair), four creepy stuffed dolls (in addition to four years to get 4 made, as money kept running out) – Khrzhanovsky, at least at this stage of his career, lacks that artistic eye of a Peter Greenaway to make his stylized camera set-ups either interesting or meaningful.

Now, what’s up with those five naughty, elderly peasant women?

A curiosity: Whether because of the reference to dictator-in-the-making Putin being a bottled-water drinker or because 4 is so relentlessly bleak, Russian authorities supposedly wanted to cut 40 minutes from the film. But after 4‘s Rotterdam Film Festival and Seattle Film Festival wins, the censors have apparently relented. 4 is scheduled to be released uncut in Russia in the fall.

Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s 4 reviewed at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Dec. 2005 addendum: For his work on 4, Ilya Khrzhanovsky was nominated for the European Film Academy Discovery Award, the Prix Fassbinder. Khrzhanovsky ultimately lost to Jakob Thuesen for Accused.

4 / Chetyre (2005). Dir.: Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Scr.: Vladimir Sorokin and Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Cast: Yuri Laguta, Sergei Shnurov, Marina Vovchenko.

Ilya khrzhanovsky’s 4 picture: Los Angeles Film Festival.

5 comments

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5 comments

msaid -

the best movie

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msaid -

very good

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JAMFAT -

You are a rubbish reviewer, the film is a refreshing change from most mind numbingly self explanatory plots. The fact that the film is bleak shouldn’t put you off and your joke that it took four years to make due to lack of funding actually makes me like the film more. My advice is stick to your Rom-Coms clean aesthetics and Iced Latte’s LA boy.

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Andre -

The name-calling was unnecessary. But since you make some good points about why you liked “4,” your comment has been posted and here I am responding to it…
Obviously, I don’t agree with you — that doesn’t make me a “rubbish” reviewer, just like your appreciating “4” doesn’t make you a “snotty” or “arrogant” reviewer. (Comments can be a — sometimes — condensed form of reviewing as I’m sure you know.)
All I can say is, I’m glad you appreciated something like “4.” It’s not my kind of film — and I believe that for *once* most people would agree with me — even though there are many bleak and/or mind-boggling films I admire. But there’s room for all kinds of tastes and ways of looking at films. If “4” is your thing, that’s fine with me. I’d never call you names because you liked it.
PS. My joke about the film taking four years to make was no put-down. The filmmaker’s perseverance is to be admired.
PS Part II: I don’t drink Iced Latte. I much prefer hot chocolate — or acai juice.

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Fernando Colin -

Hi. You konow where i can buy this movie… i saw the movie in the past festival of FICCO (Contemporany Film Festival of Mexico City) and i`ve nver seen again. Greetings

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