Black comedy about Perestroika's decay


By Norm Dixon

The Fountain
Directed by Yuri Mamin
Screenplay by Vladimir Vardunis
Produced by Lenfilms, USSR, 1988
With Asankul Kuttubayev, Sergi Dreiden, Zhana Karimtayeve and Victor Mikhailov
Soon at the Academy Twin Cinema, Paddington, Sydney
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

The publicity material distributed to the few reviewers who turned up to see The Fountain described this film variously as "a new wave comedy", "a delightful tour" and "a comedy with a rollicking sense of fun". I don't know whether I was watching the same film. I found The Fountain a depressingly black comedy (and that's an understatement) about the failure of perestroika.

All the more depressing, the film seems to say that the Soviet people deserve the ramshackle condition of their society and are incapable of repairing it.

The Fountain is set in and around a large apartment block in Leningrad. The structure is so dilapidated that it is in danger of collapse at any moment. Yet the occupants carry on their lives with almost total indifference to the impending catastrophe, following their own private obsessions, which range from growing black market tulips to leaping off the roof and attempting to fly.

Peter Lagutin (Sergei Dreiden), the maintenance manager, is the only person to take on the responsibility of trying to save the building. He fights an uphill battle to keep the walls from cracking, the roof from caving in and the bannisters intact. Mysteriously, every order for materials to repair the building fails to arrive. He must fix everything as best he can.

However, each ad hoc measure only adds to the scale of the eventual crisis. It reaches the stage that three strong men are hired to hold up the roof in exchange for copious quantities of vodka.

When the building's water and heating completely fail in the middle of winter, the municipal party bureaucracy lauds the residents' initiative to "conserve energy". This sacrifice is "in the spirit of perestroika", and all other citizens are urged to emulate the achievement.

Peter's apartment block is a metaphor for the collapsing Soviet society. Each occupant survives as best they can, either profiting from the social decay around them or trying to escape it by living in their own little worlds within its walls.

Director Yuri Mamin seems to regard Peter's valiant attempts to

repair the flats and his honesty as even more impractical than the other characters' attempts to survive the collapse. The message is: let the building fall and maybe everybody will be better off.

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