Russian Film Week: Elephants Can Play Football

ELEPHANTS CAN PLAY FOOTBALL (слоны могут играть в футбол) (Mikhail Segal, 2018)
SVA Theatre, Beatrice
333 West Twenty-Third St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Wednesday, December 12, 8:00pm – Elephants Can Play Football – Drama. Directed by Mikhail Segal
Festival runs December 8-14

Held in conjunction with the multidisciplinary Cherry Orchard Festival, Russian Film Week takes place December 8-14 at the SVA Theatre, consisting of fourteen new works as well as a fifteenth anniversary screening of Alexey Uchitel’s award-winning The Stroll, presented by the director in person. On December 12 at 8:00, Mikhail Segal’s (Franz+Polina, Film about Alekseev) fourth feature, Elephants Can Play Football, will be shown, an offbeat and unpredictable black comedy that follows the trials and tribulations of lonely and successful fortysomething businessman Dmitry (Vladimir Mishukov), who has a thing for much younger women, although not necessarily in ways one might expect. Over the course of the film, Dmitry, aka Dima, develops unique relationships with Masha (Sonya Gershevich), the seventeen-year-old daughter of his college friend (Segal, who also composed the score) and his wife (Alla Nesterova); the younger Sveta (Varya Pakhomova), whose parents (Yuriy Bykov and Nadezhada Gorelova) travel a lot; and twenty-year-old Lika (Sasha Bystrzhitskaya), whose roommate, Vera (Elena Korotkova), is battling severe depression, which actually leads to several outrageously funny scenes. Dmitry either lies about the relationships or hides them from his best friend, Sergey (Sergey Mamotov), and his wife (Irina Pakhomova) as he fastidiously insinuates himself into the young women’s lives.

Lika (Sasha Bystrzhitskaya) and Dmitry (Vladimir Mishukov) frolic through a field in Elephants Can Play Football

Elephants Can Play Football has creepy, uncomfortable moments, and not all of it makes sense, but Mishukov is compelling as the strange Dmitriy, and Eduard Moshkovich’s camera adores Gershevich and Bystrzhitskaya. The film is very much about time — actually, a fear of death — and being an active participant in a life outside oneself. Dmitry is obsessed with youth; when he talks to his parents on the computer, their heads are cut off, as if he doesn’t want to see their elderly faces. Meanwhile, he regularly says that he’ll just look out the window, as if what’s happening out there is better than what is going on inside him. At one point he rails against a man who is three minutes late to a meeting, but to Dmitry, three minutes could be a lifetime, particularly after an incident that nearly kills him. Elephants Can Play Football is often head-scratchingly confusing, and the sexual dynamics can be disturbing, but then a twist onscreen will bring you right back into its narrative grip. Among the other works being shown during Russian Film Week are Avdotya Smirnova’s The Story of One Appointment, Karen Shakhnazarov’s Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story, Sarik Andreasyan’s Unforgiven, and Konstantin Khabensky’s Sobibor, with many screenings followed by Q&As with members of the cast and/or crew.