Just as short-story collections have become the go-to book release for the author having a quiet year, we have seen the multi-narrative tale of interlocking lives become a similar easy-access avenue into a slow cinema season. One suspects this is what writer-director Johnny O’Reilly’s Moscow Never Sleeps is to the Russian film industry. In a similar but slightly more adventurous vein to Love Actually, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve and most of the last decade’s all-star-cast holiday shockers, this is a broad panorama showing Moscow off to the people of Moscow.
No one character stands out as a real focal point in this charting of modern-day Muscovites from the highest boardroom to the dingiest council flat. Everyone has their story to tell, some better and more genuine than others, but unfortunately none with a real resonance.
One elderly woman is moved late in life into a nursing home. Her alcoholic son lives in a high-rise shoebox growing disgruntled with his lovely wife. Her shy teenage daughter from another partner doesn’t get along with her bolder step-sister, who drags her out on the town to party the night away. Meanwhile an ambitious but increasingly miffed property developer wonders whether he should stay or leave the city for good. His girlfriend, a famous singer, is tugged in two directions, the other being her stalker/ex-lover, who is the son of a famous comedian, who in turn is on his last legs and contemplating a life slipping by. All this transpires amid the fireworks, merriment and blessed gridlock of Moscow City Day.
While none of the stories here particularly inspire an intimate understanding of Moscow and its peculiarities, we do at least get a sense of our surroundings. At least fifteen minutes of this film would consist of panoramic views of the skyline. This is often accompanied by a soundtrack that never really decides what kind of movie this wants to be. Accordingly, as each story is interwoven the mood hops from sombre to tense to happy-go-lucky to sombre again to grand and tragic and back to cheerful, with little in the way of thematic connection in the script to prepare us. I appreciate the director wanted diversity in challenging preconceptions of what Moscow is to its 15 million inhabitants, but it can be a confusing ride. No doubt it is a magnificent city, though it stills feels regal, austere and cold – with little of the warmth the director intended.
Nothing can hide the disparate nature of the stories and a regrettably humourless approach. Perhaps there were any number of in-jokes that a Melburnian like this reviewer was simply not privy to. But as with many of these ‘intersecting tales’ movies, the attempt to weave so many stories in leaves the individual threads thin and flimsy, and ultimately not all that unique to Moscow. These kinds of domestic squabbles are familiar in every city on earth, and as a result, I leave Moscow with a nice memory of its architecture and traffic problems but with little understanding of its people and the city they call home.
Moscow Never Sleeps screens as part of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival. Melbourne screenings run from 10th – 16th November.