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Vasily (2013)

documentary
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Directed, shot and edited by Alexander Khudokon
Produced by Lev Maslov
Based on an idea by Dmitry Golubovsky and Maxim Nikanorov

Vasily is a short documentary about Vasily Ilyn, a retired farmer from the small rural village of Ryshkovo in the Kurksy Oblast (province) of Russia. Vasily has rarely set foot outside his village, and accepts an offer from Russian Esquire magazine to see more of the world outside as part of a series of ‘ordinary lives’, accompanied by a photoshoot. He goes first to Moscow and then to New York City. As well as all the main sights the city has to offer, he visits the ‘Russian’ district and chats to a couple of the 80,000 Russians who settled there many years ago.

As we see things for the first time through Vasily’s eyes – skyscrapers, huge bridges and the ocean – there is a wonderfully childlike quality to the way this very likeable character reacts to what he sees – not with excitement or fear, but simply wonder. Along the journey we gain a little insight into Vasily’s views, his politics and his character as he talks about growing up through communism and a series of ‘idiotic’ leaders whose tenure he is proud to have outlived.

Towards the end of his trip Vasily is left with ambiguous feelings. Having seen the level of progress and prosperity in New York City he feels a sense of sadness about the condition and fate of his own country. And yet he couldn’t look happier as he returns to his country life and his family, who welcome him with love and a table filled with hearty food.

Although Vasily may come from a simple background and, as he puts it, ‘smell like farm’, the rural scenes we see at the beginning and end of this documentary are as beautiful as, perhaps even more so than the cityscapes he explores. Any big city dweller can relate to Vasily’s observations that life in cities like New York carries a certain sort of inherent stress, with people rushing around as if there is no tomorrow.

Placed in the middle of these overwhelming, fast-paced modern environments, Vasily seems to have a certain inner tranquility about him which we can ¬†guess results at least partly from the essential wholesomeness of the life he has led, closer to nature and family, as opposed to the stress, atomisation and isolation that can result from living in large and hectic cities where technology increasingly seems to govern, rather than assist life. There’s more to it than that though; as Vasily points out, he never takes anything too seriously. That, if nothing else, is a message worth taking away.