Tomorrow (Zavtra) is an elusive and discomforting film that follows Voina, a self-described contemporary art collective based in St. Petersburg, whose members forego the use of currency and task themselves with discrediting law enforcement officials. As Andrey Gryazev’s debut feature, it is in categorisation terms an often-fascinating mix of vérité documentary and improvised drama. As a film made in spite and against a political regime whose defining features have come to be corruption, embezzlement, criminality and censorship, however, Tomorrow appears also to be deeply ambivalent.
Voina (translated to ‘War’) comprises a small group of members, to whom we are introduced as they casually shoplift essentials and trip up foodstore employees who chase them. Two of the members have a toddler, Caspar, who provides part of the group’s guise when they thieve such goods. As the film unfolds, we learn that Voina’s members plan to tip an unmanned, stationary police car onto its roof during the night; much of the film’s first half is dedicated to such rehearsals. To them, such an act would be a means both of artistic expression and symbolic political protest.
From the onset, Gryazev’s relationship to the group seems unsure. Though he seems to welcome its mischief, his final assessment of Voina may actually implicate it and its anarchism as a symptom of a particular kind of resistance, which is healthily opposed to the political regime in Russia, but which appears redundant and ineffective in its aims and achievements. Indeed, what in concrete terms is tipping a police car onto its roof meant to express or symbolise? The film itself seems reflexive in its portrayal: clever but meandering, it doesn’t sufficiently anchor Voina in a real social or historical context.
The first scene sets the visual and symbolic tone: filmed to suggest a fly-on-the-wall voyeurism, the height of the camera denies a human vantage point; involvement is suggested, but the set-ups remain alienating. Moreover, when the action opens out onto the street and we are given a reverse angle, there’s no sign of an initial camera operator – is everyone in on it over multiple takes? Removed and isolated from wider shifts, the camera – and with it, the film as a whole – echoes its subjects’ own political individualism and helplessness. There is no mention, for instance, of the systemic, economic forces of which Vladimir Putin, his cohorts and their state apparatus are ineluctably a part. Mentions of capitalism are obvious in their absence.
It’s unclear, likewise, whether the inclusion of certain contradictions is meant to distance Gryazev from his cast or to implicate his own contribution to their anarchy. While one member offhandedly urinates on a parked car, for example, he tells another off for mounting the adjacent vehicle and jumping on its roof. A later scene, in which the group helps an elderly drunkard to his feet and advises him to take shelter in a bus stop, seems to be a merely perfunctory way of humanising a band of von-Trier-style idiots. Scenes involving Casper offer better access points to the group, though when father Oleg – first seen reciting Mayakovsky and Mandelstam – is eventually arrested and jailed for taking part in the tipping of the police car, you can’t help but wonder if he’s merely being irresponsible.
Such is the way with anarchism. Far removed from the economic regulation and organisation demanded of a socialist movement, it remains politically adolescent and, frankly, somewhat embarrassing. One gag is surely intended to expose the tame extent of anarchy’s folly: that in which the group devise a makeshift pole (with kitchen knife attached), with which they pitiably attempt to bring down a street banner celebrating Militia Day. The film’s climactic joke, meanwhile, is telling of Voina’s incoherent sloganism: a spray-painted penis on St. Petersburg’s Liteiny Bridge, which when raised towers above the local Federal Security Bureau’s headquarters. Is the joke on the authorities, though, or on the artists aiming to discredit them? As Oleg warns at one point, “There’s action, and there’s lousy creativity.”
‘Tomorrow’ is part of the London Film Festival’s ‘First Feature Competition’ and screens on Wednesday 17th and Saturday 20th October.