| Lubov Tolkalina and Evgeny Koryakovsky play lovers Vera and Timofei, the original two legs of a complicated romantic triangle, in the Russian comedy You I Love.
'You I Love' overcomes its faults with comely stars and gallows satire
Who did damage to You I Love, the Russian-made Berlin Film Festival sensation scheduled to arrive in San Antonio this week? The fetching and provocative comedy about a love triangle between Vera, a female newscaster, her ad-director boyfriend Tomafei, and Uloomji, a Kalmyk would-be circus performer, could be a tardy valentine from contemporary Russians to the West, lobbed high over news reports of mafia hits and state property grabs. But its progression is so erratic, and the conclusion so enigmatic, that in the end our subjects remain fascinating strangers.
Did the film editor excise the soul of the story by trimming Vera's narration to a spotty minimum, much as Tomafei cuts out Vera's heart when he begins an affair with Uloomji and marginalizes her role in his life? Or perhaps the trouble is Uloomji, who cavorts through the beginning of the film with naive glee, interrogating mascots about their work, clowning on feed pails for livestock at the zoo, and falling from a guard rail onto the hood of Tomafei's car (you could say they meet "acute"). Is he a simpleton? No, an artist: a Fauvist performance artist, reintroducing the wild, impulsive, and un-alloyed to our work-driven White Russians. Uloomji is the all-caps, flashing-bright-red, forbidden other, and as a metaphor for issues on which modern Russians are icily ambivalent, I suppose he's perfect: ethnic (the Kalmyks are descended from Mongols), unabashedly gay, and radiating joie de vivre.
Tomafei's transformation from pale, bookish workaholic to wild-haired love desperado is touching, as is his discovery that he has a closeted ally at work. The bond between Tomafei and Uloomji feels as real as any off the silver screen, but why Vera would accept her transparently third-wheel role in this misaligned vehicle is anyone's guess. Perhaps she, like American movie audiences, is loathe to say the menage-a-trois leaves her unfulfilled for fear of being labeled old-fashioned or prudish. It also could be that young urban Russians are cast adrift emotionally in post-Communist globalization, and any anchor is better than none.
| You I Love
Dir. Olga Stolpovskaya, Dmitry Troitsky; writ. Stolpovskaya; feat. Damir Badmaev, Lubov Tolkalina, Evgeny Koryakovsky, Irina Grineva, Emanuel Michael Vaganda, Yury Sherstnev, Victor Shevidov, Valentina Mankhadykova, Anatoly Mankhadykov, Nina Agapova (R)
When Uloomji's parents kidnap him to save him from his decadent lifestyle, Tomafei's co-worker consoles him: The love we find on earth, he says, is merely an advertisement for the love we will discover in heaven. As a romance, You I Love may be damaged goods, but as an exercise in art overcoming propaganda, it's a wholely delightful 83 minutes. •
By Elaine Wolff