‘Twilight Portrait’, a raw and confrontational portrait of contemporary Russia, provides food for thought and shows the withered society in the Putin era through the eyes of a bitter social worker. First-time director Angelina Nikonova and lead actress Olga Dichovitsnaja turn this portrait into an impressive film, which is sometimes poignant but always remains human.
The twilight portrait from the title refers to a stand of a compact camera that the main character Marina buys from a beggar on the street, who recommends the device by emphasizing precisely that function: with it, a portrait can also be made in low light. Marina uses it in one of the last scenes, when she photographs the corrupt macho cop Andrej on the roof terrace.
Back to the beginning of the film: in the first five minutes we already see how three police officers raped a young girl, that the beautiful Marina listlessly cheats on her family friend Valer, who breaks her shoe on the way home, she ends up in a cringing conversation with an unwilling waitress in a somewhat vulgar Russian cafe and how her bag is then also stolen when she tries to catch a taxi on the street. And then the movie has yet to begin. Marina herself does not come across as sympathetic but also not necessarily unkind, an ambivalent feeling that will linger throughout the film. The gap between the beautiful Marina, clearly from a wealthy background, and the simple waitress are typical of today’s Russia and also raise doubts about her existence in Marina herself.
Marina is stopped by the same trio of cops from the opening scene after her bag is stolen and instead of receiving help, Marina also has to endure the humiliations we only hear happening and of which we see evidence afterwards through a spunk-stained hand and torn clothes.
After the rape, it becomes clear how bad the marriage between Marina and her weak husband Ilyusha is. When he sees her come home battered at night, he pretends to be asleep. Distrust and silence are an asset, in marriage but also in relationships with others. Dichovitsnaya makes a big impression as Marina, especially in a scene where, drunk and emotional, she rants about the limitations of her life, in front of friends and family and an embarrassed husband.
Her ideas about her own life are becoming more and more fatalistic, and in her job as a social worker she also lapses into cynicism. Instead of caring too much for her clients, as one friend suggests, Marina admits to caring less and less. “Low lifes create more low lifes, which will later copy their parents’ aggressive and negligent behavior and thus perpetuate the cycle of violence. Should I actually intervene? ”Marina wonders.
When she sees one of her rapists in the aforementioned cafe, Marina ends up at a tipping point. The only way to break at least one cycle of violence is to confront her perpetrator with humanity and warmth, even though this is sometimes difficult for the viewer to bear. The seemingly more satisfying option, physical revenge, would only confirm that violence creates more violence and a just, legal punishment, there doesn’t seem to be any in the Russia of this film. That’s why Marina is doing the only thing she can do to come to terms with what happened. In a way, by forcing love on the aggressor and making him doubt himself, she achieves some form of justice.
Director Nikonova does not make it easy for the viewer with this moral dilemma, not even at the end of the film. Did Marina really develop affection for her attacker or is all this still part of some sort of justice plan? In any case, it seems to have succeeded in shaking Andrej and his macho masculinity as he follows her unarmed and stripped of his aggression into the unknown.