London Film Festival 2013: A Long and Happy Life

A Long and Happy Life was conceived by director/co-writer Boris Khlebnikov as a Russian High Noon. Instead of the American West, the film is set in a Russian coastal village. The Sheriff character from High Noon has been replaced by Sasha (Alexander Yatsenko), a farmer who is being forced off his land by the council. He initially consents to this in exchange for compensation; however his workers opposition to the take-over lead him to reconsider and Sasha then decides to refuse the compensation and stay on his land. But doing so means there will be trouble.

Yatsenko’s performance as Sasha is key to where the film succeeds. Sasha initially comes across as likeable and essentially normal, someone pushed into an unfortunate situation by the council. He has good relationships with friends, some of his workers and his girlfriend. However once he decides to fight the council he slowly becomes a more opaque character, harder to read and his relationships begin to break apart. Sasha becomes an interestingly frustrating character to watch but Yatsenko keeps him very believable.

The film has a very realistic quality that held my interest throughout. I didn’t notice the film using any score which contributed to this realism and the locations used for filming seem very authentic – gritty and dirty and the landscape plays a major part in forming the film’s stark atmosphere.

Still, despite all these positives, A Long and Happy Life is a flawed film. Some are simply minor flaws; some of the subtitled lines seem to have been translated strangely – not enough to become incomprehensible but it is distracting. A pivotal fight scene initially starts very unconvincingly due to odd staging, although it does recover. A more pressing issue is the pacing: the film is quite  short at 77 minutes yet it feels strangely longer and despite the interesting plot there is never a truly gripping tension.

The film has been described on the BFI festival guide as ‘disparaging interrogation of the ideals of socialism’, and it certainly paints a bleak portrait of the society it portrays, although it also fails to fully grasp a viewer’s interest. A Long and Happy Life is basically an interesting yet imperfect film which you shouldn’t really feel too bad about giving a miss.

Director Boris Khlebnikov. Image by A.Savin
Director Boris Khlebnikov. Image by A.Savin

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