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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Fool (Durak) [AFI Fest 2014]
The Fool (Durak) [AFI Fest 2014]
Other // Unrated // November 9, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted November 10, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The concept of morality, or the lack thereof, appears to be a similarity found between many independent films lately. These features are often able to connect with audiences, as they ask for us to place ourselves within the shoes of its characters, which instantly develops a special bond between the picture and its viewers. Writer/director Yuriy Bykov's feature The Fool, also known as Durak, speaks on both morality and corruption within a Russian city. Bykov holds a strong understanding of how to utilize the roles and their scenarios in order to manipulate the tension felt by the audience. What we're left with is a solid drama thriller with a clear direction.

Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber, who is pursuing a degree in order to possibly gain the promotion that will allow his wife and child to live decently. Both Dima and his father are honest men who have made no enemies. One night, the chief of a building of 800 inhabitants is unable to respond to a notice of a broken water pipe, leaving Dima in charge of the investigation. When he discovers that the old dormitory is at risk of collapsing during the night, he realizes that he must do everything in his power to save them.

In a city that appears to lack a middle class, Dima and his family live in a small apartment, and are barely able to afford the necessities. While he tries to apply the small amount of money that they do have towards his education, his family continues to pressure him to allocate that money elsewhere. The first scene of the picture displays the honesty of Dima and his father, which angers both of their wives. When a group of teenagers continue to break the bench outside of their apartment, Dima's father takes it upon himself to fix it each and every time. The women in the household want nothing more than for their husbands to stand up and take what they must in order to improve the family's standard of living. Given that Dima is often called a "fool" by other characters, the film's title is fitting. However, the question that Bykov asks is, who is really the fool here? A chief official even questions whether Dima is from the planet Earth or not, as he seems to be the only person to care about a dormitory filled with low-income inhabitants, most of whom have been arrested or convicted for some type of crime. Dima proves to be a lead character that we want to believe in, but his naive personality continues to get him into trouble, as he opens a "can of worms" that never should have been opened.

Once Dima reaches the officials at a party at which most of them are intoxicated, the torch is passed along to mayor Nina Galaganova (Natalya Surkova). She struggles to find a way to solve this problem where resettling these inhabitants would be costly, and it would be incredibly damaging to her reputation in the political arena. While Dima's intentions are pure, audiences are constantly left wondering what the true intentions are of the mayor and her officials. Is this about saving lives, or is it about "saving face?" What's more important? It isn't always entirely obvious what these high-profile officials desire. After all, they're the masters of deceit and "under-the-radar" planning. It becomes quite clear that Dima is far out of his league, and he's forced to do whatever he must in order to keep his head above water. Is he the only individual who truly cares about the people living in the old dormitory building? Are there any cover-ups going on here? Bykov makes us explore all of the options in our minds, as we genuinely want to see Dima succeed in his genuine and selfless goal of saving human beings, regardless of their social class.

The third act revolves around two primary topics. The first is the separation of class in society, while the second is the concept of family. Social class is a constant theme in The Fool. It often indicates a group's importance to the remainder of society, as the low-income families are often left without many resources. While this is most certainly reflected in the film, Bykov is a little bit heavy-handed with his points. Rather than simply implying, the screenplay outright tells us of this theme's importance. Showing is a lot more powerful than telling. Once we return back to his family, the feature makes several strong points from the perspective of Dima, as he attempts to explain his position and his intentions. Given the constant accusation of him being a "fool," his words often fall on deaf ears. Writer/director Yuriy Bykov has an issue with the transition from the officials back to the family, although the final few minutes are perhaps one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film. The ending leaves an impact that will remain in audiences' minds for days, as it brings up an intriguing discussion before the credits start rolling.

While the story's tension is successful at keeping us invested, the actors are truly due credit for bringing these characters to life. Atrium Bystrov is fitting as Dima. He delivers a genuine personality that we can easily support, even if the character's decision-making isn't always the most reasonable. Regardless, this is a convincing portrayal that works. With that said, Natalya Surkova is outstanding as mayor Nina Galaganova. She captures the character's dynamics with perfection, especially as the seams begin to burst. Surkova's portrayal commands our attention and keeps us questioning the true intentions behind the "wall" that she puts up in front of the city dwellers. The supporting characters are all suitable, although Surkova most certainly steals the spotlight in every scene that she appears in.

The Fool is a suspenseful drama that maintains a sense of uneasiness throughout the duration of the picture. Writer/director Yuriy Bykov explores several intriguing themes, such as social class, morality, and family, although some of them can be delivered with a little bit of a heavy hand, which can sometimes feel overbearing, especially given how subtle so many other elements of the film are. Nevertheless, Bykov has provided us with a lead that we want to see succeed, and a group of unpredictable officials, who have motives that audiences won't necessarily be able to predict. We're left with a film that allows audiences to easily discuss its themes for hours, which is the entire reason that we visit the cinema in the first place. The Fool makes for a solid conversation piece. Recommended.

The Fool will be playing at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi on November 9 and November 11.

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