By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
To say The Lightest Darkness is inspired by film noir is an understatement. To connect it with the styling of Franz Kafka is perhaps just as surreal. Whichever the case, the neo-modernist stylings of this Russian made film make the feelings of being entrapped certainly notable. Two suspects (or is that three) are eyed; Private Investigator Musin (Rashid Aitouganov) is on a missing person case and believes all can be unveiled on a train going nowhere fast.
Perhaps, Elina Vyasovtseva (Marina Voytuk) or Arina (Irina Gevorgyan) saw her. They have their own skeletons in the closet and are not forthcoming when they share the same seats on the locomotion they and Musin are on. The latter is a screenwriter by trade and needs to get into the guts of understanding the serial killer who is said to haunt the ride. Even worse, The Fruiterer was never caught; he (assuming, that’s the gender) is still at it, and that makes everyone nervous. Nobody likes to be on board the same train the murders took place. But they have to get home somehow.
Even the conductors (Anfisa Mukhamedzhanova and Ekaterina Dar) have tales to tell, and if you’re willing to listen, the thriller hits all the right marks. As a Russian language and made film, it defies standard Hollywood expectations. Shades of Agatha Christie’s Murder of the Orient Express does taint this work as it’s the most well known, and Diana Galimzyanova‘s tale is just as fun. For one thing, to see an odd piece of technology puts this tale in the modern day than to create a period piece. She also directs and the femme fatales, if they can be called that, is just as important. She is an installation artist herself. One look at her Vimeo page shows she’s not done with this style of filmmaking yet. Her transition to storytelling is terrific and her understanding of the medium is spot on.
In art, this visual movement (expressionism) emphasized the feelings the creator want in his or her work over recreating reality. In any film, lighting is paramount to create a web of fear. Despair or madness can be hidden. Noir grew out of the German Expressionism movement, and to realize something is not right in the world is often the perfect choice for period crime dramas.
Even though Kafkaesque works are inherently and incomprehensibly complex to interpret. This film is one case where I will not try to explain. Readers who love this genre are encouraged to figure out this puzzle and guess at what’s next.
4 Stars out of 5