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Anna Melikyan Fairy Review

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Fairy | 2020 TIFF Digital Cinema Pro Review

Fairy | 2020 TIFF Digital Cinema Pro Review

Comrade Christ: Melikyan Muses on the Motherland Through the Eyes of Another Waif

Anna Melikyan Fairy ReviewEven through their desperate avatars, the oligarchy overrules the Russian populace, one of several tangential themes explored in Fairy, the latest film from Russian director Anna Melikyan. Scoring a major international breakthrough in 2007 with her film Mermaid, which picked up awards at Sundance and Berlin, Melikyan became an instant rarity, one of the few women Russian-language filmmakers to secure distribution and prestige overseas. Since then, she’s continued with similar trajectories and themes in titles which weren’t as well-traveled. For those familiar with her filmography, her latest feels like the third chapter in a thematic trilogy which began with Mermaid and continued in 2014 with Star, once again exploring Russia’s alienating industries through the naive eyes of an impish, beautiful waif, a magical personality whose presence transports those around her from cynical, selfish charlatans to sympathetic humans who through her prism learn to grasp an innate interconnectedness. As the title suggests, its in the same vein as her previous intentions, a fantastic contemporary fairy tale, which, through the dark realities of the present finds people coming together despite the odds.

Fleeing an animal rights protest the police have infiltrated, half-naked and blood-soaked Tatyana (Ekaterina Ageeva) jumps into the car of Evgeny Voigin (Konstantin Khabensky), one of Russia’s most successful video game developers thanks to his virtual reality phenomenon, Kolovrat. At first resistant to assisting Tatyana, Voigin’s preadolescent daughter, Masha, who refuses to speak, responds positively to the waifish woman, and so he takes her along to his office. News is breaking on the violent rampage of a fascist terrorist group who have brutally been beating immigrants and gay men, naming themselves after Voigin’s successful video game. Initially, Voigin sees this as positive free publicity, and he feels inspired to use Tatyana as a magical character, nicknaming her ‘Fairy.’

As political pressure begins to creep up on Voigin regarding the terrorist group, he tries to cut a deal with Olga Yatsuk (Mission Impossible, 1996) a prominent official whose son is part of the clandestine organization—if he can dissuade Lyokha (Nikita Elenev) from continuing his activities, she will agree to allow his video game empire to continue. Meanwhile, his crusade to photograph some pieces by Andrey Rublev, obscured by remnants installed by Catherine the Great, brings him closer to Tatyana, who insists there is more to his life, both past and present, than he realizes.

There’s a bizarreness to Fairy which invites comparison to the universe of a Terry Gilliam, whose techno future dystopias (12 Monkeys; The Zero Theorem) channel the same sense of underlying darkness. And not unlike his The Fisher King, the comely lynchpin at the center of the narrative brings two nihilistic, arguably broken suitors, back to a semblance of reality through love. Tied into this are threads of Nazism, fascism, homophobia, and the religious iconography of Andrey Rublev in a heady mix of art imitating life imitating art.

For as Voigin struggles to recreate landscapes for his historically minded virtual reality game, homegrown terrorists pervert his imagery and symbolism for their own violent mayhem. And then the narrative really goes down the rabbit hole by suggesting Voigin himself is the reincarnation of Rublev… Melikyan is also fascinated with the potential dangers of a future saturated by virtual reality. When questioned about what the world will look like for those who aren’t participating in this brave new online world, he suggests “they will be killed.” As Voigin, Konstantin Khabensky (familiar to US audiences thanks to his work with Timur Bekmambetov in Night Watch, Day Watch and Wanted) has a transformation like a charmless villain from a fairy tale, an unlikeable and selfish lump who simply finds changed merely by his association with the child-like Tatyana

As Tatyana, Ekaterina Ageeva is more a bundle of ideas than an actualized character, but immediately announces herself as desiring to work with Lars Von Trier, a direct reference to the punishment and defeat Melikyan herself seems to have in store for her trilogy of innocents corrupted by the totalitarian environment suffocating them. A model turned activist turned video game muse, she falls in love with Voigin, while her interactions with Lyokha sparks a desire in the younger man to renounce fascism. It would seem, according to Fairy, our ability to be vulnerable to love is the only way to escape our extremist attitudes, as Tatyana abandons the violent tendency of her animal rights activist friends while Voigin embraces his own catharsis.

By the end of the 152-minute running time, Melikyan seems perfectly fine with leading her audience to frazzled disarray rather than be clear about what’s going on in Fairy. While her latest doesn’t have the energetic magic of Mermaid and is arguably darker than Star, it spins its wheels a bit getting to the thrust of Tatyana and Voigin’s personal epiphanies. Like a strange dream mixing hopeful attitudes and troubling realities ripped from the headlines, for all its talk about regurgitating past lives, it’s really about the next chapter, and what happens when considering how our own realities create ripple effects for others.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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