The following review is taken from a screening held at Tsoifest 2022.
On the Tsoifest program, the film “Yahha” is described as a 1986 experimental documentary by Rashid Nougmanov, then a student at the Moscow film school. However, before the film was shown, Nugmanov decided to correct the program, saying that it was not a fully reality-based documentary. The film, he claimed, was much more a work of experimentation within the late Soviet rock scene that contains elements of a documentary. Watching this film, I realized that it was the perfect way to say what this film is in between, but not completely, in the states of narrative film, documentary or even experimentalism.
At this point, I was usually writing the plot of the movie I saw. But in that case, I don’t really know how to fully describe what happens in a movie that doesn’t have as many conflicts or fully developed characters. So I decided to write what was on the Tsoifest program: “’Yahha’ is a whimsical and atmospheric look at life in the underground rock music scene in Gorbachev-era Leningrad. The documentary follows a group of young music fans on a kaleidoscopic journey that includes a boiler room performance, a rowdy punk wedding and irreverent street banter, while capturing the free spirit of a burgeoning youth subculture at the dawn of socio-political change. .”
If you were looking for a documentary that would give you explicit information about what happened in the rock music scene of the late Soviet Union and during Perestroika, then this film won’t explicitly answer any of your questions. The film, however, will capture the feeling of living in Leningrad as part of the underground rock these youngsters listened to. What definitely does the job is its cinematography, which is portable and set in the action of these people. However, it blurs the line between fiction and reality. Some shots appear to be staged as if it were a narrative film, while in others you can see the people in the film looking directly at the camera and even making funny faces at it, as if a character is playing with the camera on the street. . Nugmanov claimed he hired four cameramen from the Moscow film school to travel to Leningrad to shoot the film, and the fresh and pragmatic plans reflect that choice. It is reminiscent of Godard’s “A bout de souffle” (which Rachid said is an influence on his work).
One aspect of film that I don’t usually examine in my reviews is sound, despite how important this production element is to contemporary films. But one aspect that was evident during the screening was how the scenes are either silent or rely on Foley and ADR, which are processes that involve the addition of sound post-production and dialogue. During the Q&A session, Rachid explained that this was due to the extremely limited budget and equipment available for their principal photography sound. . But it could be described as a “happy accident” for the film, as it helps give the characters a sense of living in a state of limbo that happened before the days of perestroika. It also makes for a pretty memorable wedding scene that plays out like a 1920s or 30s silent movie and includes dialogue cards reminiscent of a Chaplin movie.
The performances of the film can be judged by the naturalness of the actors in front of the camera. I say this because Nugmanov claimed that, like Cinema Vérité and Italian neorealism, he hired mostly non-professional actors in Leningrad to play themselves. From what I saw, they seemed to play out in an authentic way. It makes you unsure if they are really taking action. When seen in tandem with the cinematography, the acting choices beg the question of whether what we’re watching is real or fake. But beyond that, the performances help us to realize that at that time the Soviet rock scene, unlike the American rock scene, was centered on pleasure and not on socio-political contestation. Without the fluency of the actors, you wouldn’t be able to see that Soviet youth sought out this music to find common ground with their peers and simply have fun.
On the first night of Tsoifest, a cover band by the name of Kino Proby performed covers of Kino, the band Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi played with. It could be considered a unique experience, due to the fact that I don’t speak Russian one way or another, so most of my enjoyment came from the loud instrumentals. I realized that the experience was the perfect way to sum up my view of “Yahha”: I didn’t fully understand him, but I could feel him.
Special thanks to Rita Safariants (Associate Professor of Russian in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures), and her course FMST 221: Russian cinema after the fall.