The Lightest Darkness

A private detective.  A train travelling all night to a mysterious destination.  Three strangers encountering each other by chance — or is it chance?  The moment you start watching The Lightest Darkness by Diana Galimzyanova, you know you’re in the world of noir, where everything is black and white but never simple.

Musin (Rashid Aitouganov) is the neurotic private eye, a frequent train traveler these days as he works to clear up the estate of his recently deceased uncle (Alexander Rapoport).   Elina Vyasovtseva (Marina Voytuk) is a concert pianist travelling for her work.  Arina (Irina Gevorgyan) is a screenwriter researching a script for a computer game — which, as she is quick to point out, can be as complex as any novel these days.  And the subject of her game is one that isn’t far from anyone’s mind: The Fruiterer, the odd nickname bestowed on a serial killer who haunts the night trains for victims, having claimed at least six lives.  People are afraid to ride the trains and are staying away — no, wait, actually the trains are booked solid and the conductors (Anfisa Mukhamedzhanova and Ekaterina Dar) are doing a brisk business in grisly souvenirs and sharing all the sordid details, for the right price.

As this story moves forward, another spools backward, as Musin recalls the details of his latest case.  A worried husband (Vladimir Morozov) hired the detective to find his missing wife, Lyubov (Ksenia Zemmel), and what began as just another missing persons case quickly flies out of control as Musin becomes far too personally entangled with the case, and especially with the last person to see Luybov — her highly unconventional therapist, Izolda Ivanoff (Kolya Neukoelln).

The stories are skillfully woven together, each mystery heightening the other as they unfold.  The characters all have secrets and are haunted by their pasts one way or another, pasts that seem to have inevitably brought them together.  There’s a strong sense of inescapable fate about the entire film, a feeling that all of the characters are doing exactly what they must do, whether they truly want to or not.  Like a train taking the viewer inexorably to the next station, there’s no turning back — not that you’ll want to, as you’ll be far too caught up in the mystery.

This is Galimzyanova’s feature-length debut as a director, and she handles it like a pro, turning the two stories into a fascinating web of intrigue that will satisfy any film fan and especially noir fans like me.  The actors never hit a wrong note, the characters and various classic noir elements blending seamlessly with the modern world to create an atmosphere that’s both dreamlike and alarmingly real, a place where unknown dangers might lie behind every corner.  Sometimes there’s good reason to be afraid of the darkness.

Musin checks his look in the mirror.

Shadow

College is a time for expanding horizons, learning about new things in and out of the classroom, and taking the first steps to adulthood and (hopefully) self-sufficiency.  Of course it can also be a time for learning by making horrible mistakes and possibly falling apart under the pressure of grades, the temptation of wild parties, and the sudden lack of any parental supervision.  They may be adults legally speaking, but turning eighteen doesn’t magically give everyone a good dose of common sense, more’s the pity.

Jane (Revell Carpenter) is one of the good kids, there to learn calculus and maybe meet some people, though she’s also shy and a little overwhelmed by colleg life.  She also has the most adorable crush on Allen (Kumasi Hopkins), who luckily happens to be very good at calculus and is also willing to tutor the less skilled like Jane.  Allen is shy, too, and has so far resisted the extreme peer pressure from his friend and roommate Will (Nicholas Goodwin, who also wrote and directed) to ask Jane out.  In fact Will says that if Allen doesn’t go after Jane, he will, despite the existence of Will’s girlfriend Jessica (Samantha Morias).  It sounds very high school, but then, that’s where they all were not so very long ago.  Anyway, Will has talked Allen into co-hosting a party at their place.  Hoping to have at least one other non-party-animal there, Allen talks Jane into coming over.

 

It’s a fateful decision, and none of the relationships among the characters will be the same again.  But perhaps the most striking thing about this short film is how quietly realistic it is.  Some important events unfold in near total silence, heightening the power of the images on-screen, with the plot unfolding as much in the pauses as in the words.  Every look and gesture from the actors rings true, and every scene is important.  It’s unfortunately not an uncommon story and there’s nothing shocking here, but there doesn’t need to be — the cold and unvarnished truth is quite bad enough.