Berlin 2013 – Competition
A city boy turned farmer decides to help his fellow villagers’ plight to protect their land from the state. But getting caught up in someone else’s fight could end up costing him everything…
Cinematography by Pavel Kostomarov (Berlin winner – Outstanding Artistic Achievement for HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER). Powerful modern storytelling from the director of FREE FLOATING, HELP GONE MAD and ROADS TO KOKTEBEL.
Anyone familiar with the m.o. of Russian arthouse films will immediately assume the title "A Long and Happy Life" is meant to be ironic, and so it proves with this short and sad film… reps a solid piece of craftsmanship… cleaving roughly in spirit to the "High Noon" template, the plot tracks how, one by one, the villagers let Sasha down and betray him, even Zhenia (reliable character thesp Evgeny Sitiy), the most vocal hothead in favor of fighting, who swindles Sasha out of 15,000 roubles (about $500) so he can skip town. The only one left is a gormless kid with nowhere else to go (Gleb Puskepalis, once the child star of Khlebnikov's co-directed 2003 debut, "Koktebel")… Although "Life's" core premise technically makes at "inaction" film of sorts, Khlebnikov spikes the tempo with some pacey, nicely kinetic sequences, including a ominous fire-fighting scene at the start that demonstrates Sasha's natural leadership abilities, and a climactic shootout that is striking for its subdued use of sound and unusual camera angles. Indeed, d.p. Pavel Kostomarov's digital lensing reps a highlight, especially the painterly way it captures the glowering beauty of the volatile nearby river and the brightly colored autumnal landscape of the Murmansk Region where the pic was shot. Intentionally jagged editing also creates a nervy, tense feel in the middle reels…
— Leslie Felperin, VARIETY
A spoiler alert is hardly required to tip you off that the title is ironic. A Long Happy Life (Dolgaya Schastlivaya Zhizn) is a short, downbeat film, a realist fable about how tough times have become for the honest man in contemporary Russia. With subject matter and tone suggesting a Russian rural Ken Loach – although without his usual affirmative endings – Boris Khlebnikov’s film gets by on its simple, direct storytelling and a likable doomed hero… Visually, the film is in a mode of no-fuss wintry rural realism – with flashes of dynamic camera in the early scene of a house fire, and the leitmotif of a rushing river suggesting that, despite political changes, some things in Russia are eternal.
The appealing if undemonstrative Alexander Yatsenko is cleverly cast to embody a now-devalued archetype; with his broad, candid features, he could have been a lead actor in the Soviet social realist dramas of yore, although the film makes it clear that his noble breed is now as doomed as the dinosaur.
— Jonathan Romney, SCREEN INTERNATIONAL
Partly inspired by the classic Gary Cooper western High Noon, director Boris Khlebnikov’s Berlin competition feature is an elemental tale of rural conflict in contemporary Russia which might equally have been set in Dostoevsky’s time. Starkly shot on hand-held digital camera in natural light by former Berlinale cinematography prize-winner Pavel Kostomarov, A Long and Happy Life boasts an agreeably raw lo-fi aesthetic… Brief and bitter, in pointed defiance of its ironic title, A Long and Happy Life has the right ingredients for a fatalistic social drama in the grand Russian tradition. The plot is riven with human conflict, the bare-bones style has its own austere poetry…
— Stephen Dalton, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER