Director/writer couple Aleksey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova moved the audience of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam with their latest film, titled THE MAN WHO SURPRISED EVERYONE.
Premiering at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it won the Orizzonti prize for Best Actress (Natalya Kudryashova), this film goes beyond the central issues of toxic masculinity and homophobia in Russia, and offers its viewers new perspectives in dealing with these matters. THE MAN WHO SURPRISED EVERYONE is a collage of raw Russian realities. Its Tarkovsky-esque camera work, and the desolate Siberian-looking landscape, blends perfectly with the gritty story which unfolds on screen.
The film tells the story of Yegor (Evgeniv Tsyganov), a dedicated forest ranger, who gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and is given only two months to live by his provincial doctor. As a coping mechanism, he explores an unknown aspect of his identity and begins to cross-dress, thus leading him to be alienated by his family, village and the people he once called friends. In a true Katharine Hepburn fashion, Yegor never explains, never complains. All in all, he is a quiet man who sticks to what he believes is right, and Tsyganov’s minimalistic performance is in perfect sync with the character’s reserved personality. The motive behind his new behaviour is never confirmed; one simply assumes that it is some form of therapy for him.
The film’s strength lies precisely within its power to extend past Russia’s homophobic issues. In a follow up Q&A, Chupov affirmed that homophobia is not the story’s main subject, and that the director/writer duo merely used it as a narrative instrument, just as one might “use rain or snow to stop its characters”. The audience is simply asked to feel, thanks to a series of beautiful, intimate and raw images.