Peculiarities of the National Hunt

English Title: Peculiarities of the National Hunt

Original Title: Osobennosti natsional'noi okhoty

Country of Origin: Russia

Studio: Lenfilm

Director: Aleksandr Rogozhkin

Producer(s): Aleksandr Golutva

Screenplay: Aleksandr Rogozhkin

Cinematographer: Andrei Zhegalov

Art Director: Aleksandr Timoshenko, Valentina Adikaevskaia

Runtime: 96 minutes

Genre: Comedy

Language: Russian

Starring/Cast: Sergei Kupriianov, Sergei Russkin, Semen Strugachev, Viktor Bychkov, Aleksei Buldakov, Ville Haapasalo

Year: 1995

Volume: Russian

Other Information:
Awards Kinotavr 1995, Nika 1995, Karlovy Vary 1995, Vyborg 1995, Film-media Prize 1995.


Synopsis:

In Peculiarities of the National Hunt (in Autumn) the Finn Raimo, who is researching the traditions of the Russian hunt from the time of the tsars to the present, joins a group of Russians, including a general, a businessman, a gamekeeper, and a policeman, in the hunt. The drinking bouts the Russians associate with hunting, however, are not what Raimoà la russe. expects. He initially refuses to drink, while dreaming of the imperial hunting party of the late-nineteenth century as they hunt down a fox with their dogs, elegantly ride on their horses, and, of course, converse in French. In the meantime, the non-Russian speaker is marginalized as the Russians indulge in alcohol. The Finn is an outsider, misunderstood and displaying utterly non-Russian manners: he tidies up, cares for the environment, and waits for the hunt, not realizing that it has already begun—at least,


Critique:

The film explores the Russians’ notorious love for vodka through a series of anecdotes. Rogozhkin merges situational comedy (bureaucrats and officials who do not behave like serious citizens and are helpless in matters of everyday life) with the eccentricity of character induced by vodka consumption and isolation from the world of ‘normalcy’.

Rogozhkin draws on the Russian tradition of drinking captured so well in Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow to the End of the Line (Moskva-Petushki, 1973). More important still is the impact of advertising campaigns for vodka as broadcast on Russian television in the mid-1990s, especially the commercials for the vodka label ‘White Eagle’ (Belyi Orel, 1994-95), produced by designer Iurii Grymov, known for his extravagant style that knows no border between the beautiful and the vulgar. The White Eagle campaign centred on the delirious hero reaching a state of absolute freedom from social conventions and restrictions thanks to the influence of alcohol. The beautiful images of delirium contrast with the images of a sober reality. Similarly, an early-1990s ad for Smirnoff vodka presented the idea of a clearer reality that can be perceived under the influence of alcohol. The ‘clearness of sensations’ achieved through alcohol consumption allows the protagonist to unmask reality: he sees the things hidden under the glossy surface. The guests no longer wear elegant party dresses, but look like wild animals from a horror movie. It is a frightening, but certainly a more interesting view than the dull party seen without vodka.

This function of vodka as a stimulant for the clear perception of reality, together with the structural principle of ads as a series of clips, without beginning and end, underlies Rogozhkin’s film. The fragmentary structure, the anecdotal character of the dialogue, and the lack of logic replicate the incoherent speech of a drunkard. His hunters repeat the same absurd action over and over again.

The characters are representative of the new, no longer classless Russian society: the military, the new Russian, the state official, the policeman. However, beneath their social image they hide their authentic selves: the love of animals, humans, and nature. Under the influence of vodka they reveal their true identities and values: the good and honest demeanour of a Russian folk hero, who kills no animal, who helps his fellow human beings, and who is at one with nature. Therefore, the general ‘Mikhailych’ Ivolgin deploys his skills to organize a party or a hunt; the state official Lev Soloveichuk is a pitiable creature when it comes to practical matters; the policeman Semenov is always helpful; the businessman Sergei Olegovich has problems at home; and the forester Kuzmich meditates instead of clearing forests and hunting animals. Rogozhkin removes all negative attributes and marks of power from these social types and replaces them with positive and vulnerable qualities.

Russian life fails to coincide with the Finn’s imagination. The military and the police hardly reinforce order: a military aircraft is used to transport vodka and animals, and the police vans facilitate a visit to some prostitutes. The breakdown of social order in contemporary Russia is treated with self-irony. Drinking may have no purpose, but it is a habit that makes social and national differences disappear, that lifts temporal boundaries by bringing together past and present, and annihilates the borders between animals and humans. The world returns to its purest form, devoid of boundaries or limits. What matters in the hunt is not the result, but the time spent in good company.

 

Peer Reviewer: Rimgaila Salys

Author of this review: Birgit Beumers