Russia, 2010, 75 min
The rites and rituals of the Merja people—an ethnic minority of Finno-Urgric extraction originally from the Volga region of Russia—form the backbone of this lyrical, sensual and dreamlike film about love and loss. After beloved wife Tanja dies, pulp factory CEO Miron calls on his best friend, the photographer (and the film’s narrator) Aist, to help him with his final goodbye. As the ravishingly lensed story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Aist and Tanja were once more than friends. The two men, bound together through friendship and passion for the same woman, discuss their memories of her in bawdy reflection as they transport her to her final place of rest. By a riverbank, they wordlessly and expertly observe the ancient rituals and lovingly prepare Tanja’s body. Water is central to the film and to Merjan life, and the unobtrusive yet obviously key presence it has is indicative of the gentle way director Aleksei Fedorchenko beautifully weaves the myths and traditions of this vanishing culture into his poetic film. As the director states, “The slogan of the film was tenderness. We wanted tenderness to be transformed into nostalgia; tenderness and nostalgia were to become synonymous with love.” The result is a melancholy and mystical journey following the complex and twisting currents of the human heart.