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Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Chapiteau Show' review

★★★★☆
Sergei Loban's Chapiteau Show (Shapito-shou, 2010) is a sprawling, 207-minute epic tale of interwoven narratives, musical vignettes and surrealist comedy all set in a sun-drenched Crimean holiday resort. A daunting and challenging proposition for any film fanatic, yet one that richly rewards your patience and commitment. Four separate stories combine to create an epic depiction of loneliness, friendship, determination and love in modern-day Russia. Broken into four separate chapters, each tale sporadically interjects the other to create a fascinating tapestry of intelligent narrative ideas.

From following an unconventional couple who, despite only ever meeting online, decide to run away together, to a group of deaf friends experiencing a tear in the fabric of their friendship, all the way to a an entrepreneurial producer attempting to make his fortune by peddling a look-a-like musician, each character's tale is an elaborate and extravagant examination of social and cultural issues within contemporary Russia.

Each chapter is bookended by a surreal musical performance held at the 'Chapiteau Show' - a small circus tent just outside this vibrant Crimean coastal town. These grandiose set pieces range from witnessing Marilyn Monroe dancing with a bear in a spacesuit whilst a flamboyant matador choreographs their tragic love story, to a Michael Jackson dance off in front a partying Kitchen sink. It culminates in an enthralling, yet confounding cavalcade of bewildering extracts that allow this unique film to eschew conventional narrative devices and create a spellbinding, almost hypnotising allegory for a generation experiencing life in a more liberated Russia.

Loban seamlessly stitches together this multifaceted narrative in such an intelligent and meticulous fashion that it leaves the audience riveted throughout, constantly piecing together this fascinating jigsaw of a film, desperate to finally see the bigger picture. Part-road movie, part-love story, part-surrealist, satirical experiment in filmmaking, Chapiteau Show - despite its off-putting runtime - constantly entertains, never failing to surprise its audience. A catchy and varied score of electro pop and distorted guitars become the film’s much needed caffeine injection, helping to keep the pace vibrant and the tempo high whilst also acting as an harmonious trigger to help subconsciously unite these entwined stories.

Behind the satirical shell of this enchanting movie lies the work of a director constantly attempting to entertain and amaze his audience through a surprisingly accessible collage of comedy, music and drama. Often baffling but never boring, Chapiteau Show is a rare and welcoming piece of charming, intelligent and enchanting cinema with its own endearingly distinguishable style.

The 6th Russian Film Festival runs from 2-11 November. For more of our RFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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