Coming on like a particularly bad cheese dream, Ilya Khrzanovsky's debut feature 4 is a unique and unsettling trip into the dark and deeply weird heart of modern Russia. Throwing conspiracy paranoia, rumours of genetic cloning and the chill of post-glasnost reality into a heady brew of dream-like imagery, there are no easy answers here. If you like your movie fare easy to digest, look elsewhere but those with an open mind will find plenty to chew on.
Given the borderline experimental nature of 4, it's tricky to say exactly what happens. It kicks off when three strangers walk into a bar and tell extravagant lies about themselves. Then they go their separate ways into a narrative which grows increasingly disturbed and fragmented, culminating in a visit to an isolated village where old women swig vodka and make dolls from chewed bread (no, really). As you'd expect, the number four crops up everywhere along with several other motifs including stray dogs, snow ploughs and genetic engineering, all of which create a landscape where fact and fiction begin to merge. Do the tall tales have more substance to them than anyone realises, or is it just your imagination?
"A HALF-REMEMBERED DREAM"
There’s no doubt that Khrzanovsky is a talented film maker and that he keeps the script by novelist Vladimir more or less in check is admirable, but there's plenty of self-indulgence and fingers may well be a-drumming during a tedious five minute sequence in which one character walks through the frigid countryside. Make no mistake, it's heavy going but the effect is like the moment between sleeping and waking when a half-remembered dream sticks in your mind and clings for the rest of the day. Haunting.
In Russian with English subtitles.