In 1950s Ukraine, middle-aged waitress Natasha (Natalia Berezhnaya) works with younger colleague Olga (Olga Shkabarnya) in the closeted canteen of a secret institute. Intimidated by Olga’s youthful hedonism, the two women often claw and catfight after hours in extended binge-drinking sessions.
However, when Olga sets up a hedonistic soirée at her apartment with the canteen’s clientele, Natasha relaxes. Drunkenly falling for the sexual advances of visiting French scientist Luc Bigé, both of them end up in bed believing that nobody cares. Yet in Stalinist Russia, somebody always cares. It’s just not always out of concern…
…an increasingly compelling embrace that will taunt you to stay its 145-minute course.
Staged as a multi-million dollar conceptual art piece where the cast lived, ate and breathed Stalin’s Russia on Europe’s largest ever film set, ‘DAU. Natasha’ is the first film to be released in what is planned to be a collection of works. Culled over from two years worth of filming and edited over six years, directors Ilya Khrzhanovskiy and Jekaterina Oertel have delivered an uncompromising, interim result.
Filmed with a non-professional cast, every detail has been laboriously recreated to match the film’s repressive period. Long hand-held takes waver over the minutiae of a light-deprived world as physicists perform human experiments by day and then retire to the grainy charms of the canteen by night.
After the initial jealous vodka-fuelled spats of Natasha and Olga, ‘DAU. Natasha’s’ stumbling narrative slowly becomes a stride. Most of this is due to the committed first-time performance of Natalia Berezhnaya as Natasha. Whether bawling into a consolatory cigarette or goading an equally excellent Olga Shkabarnya when she can’t hold her drink, the hothouse simulation of ‘DAU. Natasha’ feels like it’s stoking a real antipathy between its leads. However, the scenes that will really stay with you are contained in the film’s third act.
Any concerns you might have about Natasha’s unsimulated sex with Luc Bigé’s French scientist will pale in comparison to her reckoning with the site’s head of security (Vladimir Azhippo). Cold, brutal and unrelentingly sadistic, the torture and psychological manipulation visited upon her is searingly discomforting. Where these kinds of scenes are alluded to other films, in ‘DAU. Natasha’ they are not – so be warned.
Compromised and broken, those reviewers who walked out during ‘DAU. Natasha’s’ first act’s torn clumps of hair will never see them as the necessary setup to the third’s act hammer blow. As the Berlinale festival’s most frustrating, candid and nakedly unapologetic offering, this simulation-carved-into-film is a deliberately, horrific experience that saves its worst for the last.
In creating a confined atmosphere where the hedonism is so distracting that fear and paranoia can walk in unannounced, Ilya Khrzhanovskiy and Jekaterina Oertel have unquestioningly succeeded with their first DAU. offering. So whether you would relish or be repulsed by such a scarring experience, this is entirely your choice to make at the ticket barrier.
All I can say is that once started, this tale of touch-the-devil-once-and-never-let-go is an increasingly compelling embrace that will taunt you to stay its 145-minute course.