Brisbane's Russian Resurrection Film Festival (RRFF) celebrated its fifteen anniversary this year on Wednesday (7 November).
The festival opened with all the glitz and glamour (and vodka) you would expect, and kicked off the premiere with the Russian sports-drama 'Coach'. The film was originally released in Russia at a particularly poignant time. It hit cinemas in April; a specific choice that capitalised on football mania in the lead up to the 2018 Football World Cup which Russia played host to. This was the first time, however, that Brisbane audiences were able to see the film.
With all its focus on team spirit and togetherness, 'Coach' is the obvious and ideal choice for the opening night. Well, that and Danila Kozlovsky (sigh). Super-hunk Danila is the hottest thing in Russia at the moment, and he is both the star and director of the sports-drama. Audience members were treated to a Q&A session after the film with Danila and producer Petr Anurov. The Q&A session was then followed by fancy finger food, (unlimited) vodka cocktails, and live jazz performances.
'Coach' follows the story of Yuri Stoleshnikov (Danila) as Spartak’s (the national team) star striker, his fall from grace, and subsequent redemptive arc. Yuri is a passionate and talented player, but his passion and arrogance lead him to an embarrassing exit in the championship game.
The story moves along two years later where Yuri is offered the position of Head Coach of Meteor, a relatively unknown team in a small, provincial town. At first, the players are non-responsive and almost belligerent towards Yuri’s teachings. Gradually though, he earns their respect, and from there, their trust. Only then does this team of cop-outs become champions.
Not surprisingly, on this journey of humility, Yuri learns as much as he teaches.
It could be argued based on the storyline and pacing that the director is perhaps playing it safe, rather than making bold, pioneering decisions. The film is predictable, yes, but not clichéd.
There were not many surprising moments; however, one thing I did appreciate was Yuri’s close relationship with his father. I must admit I was expecting the overdone Hollywood ‘my father pushed me too hard and, yes, I’m an exceptional athlete, but I still resent him for it’ trope. Instead, there was depth to this relationship and an overwhelmingly reciprocated love. The acting of these characters, and even the other supporting characters was of a high enough calibre that the story didn’t feel stale.
Moreover, the story is executed in such a way that the film doesn’t feel contrived or strained. Rather, it is heart-warming and guaranteed to make you smile.
Aside from Danila talent for acting, he does have an eye for directing. Specific camera choices were reflective of the story and helped move the film along. For example, the film opens with loud, rhythmic sounds. A singular beat that grows stronger and more defined. A heartbeat. And then come footsteps. And then panting – a rough, guttural sounding huffing. These all culminate in an emotional intensity that immediately establishes the tone for the film.
Additionally, the camera follows the ball during the football matches. Rather than positioning the camera on the sidelines or displaying the game from above with an aerial shot, the camera follows the ball and the players who have it, this way engaging and inviting the viewer to participate.
During contemplative or particularly emotional moments in the film, the shot cuts to long aerial takes over the city or the ocean’s gently lapping water. This quiet background observance mirrors and alludes to Yuri’s internal strife.
The film places a heavy importance on the tenets of self-belief, trust, and unity. Yuri and the Meteors can only grow as a team and fulfil their potential once they learn to trust each other and believe in themselves. These values are ubiquitous enough that even non-Russian speaking audiences can relate to and enjoy the film.
The director appears to be aiming for a 'Field of Dreams'/'The Blind Side' level of inspiring. It just falls short of this accreditation, but is engaging and uplifting nonetheless. Overall, ‘Coach’ is a perfect pick that nails its mandate as festival opener. It’s welcoming, which sets the atmosphere for the rest of the festival, and enjoyable, which promotes return audiences.