ND/NF: The Fly proves Tolstoy’s adage that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”
On the autumn side of his too-far-extended teenage years (the closer-to-forty side), Fedor Mukhin (Alexey Kravchenko) of writer/director Vladimir Kott’s debut feature The Fly (2008) might be a footloose hard-drinker tough-guy truckdriver, but he is no deadbeat dad. He’s not above swapping off on a roadside prostitute with his trucking buddy, but he’s ready to pledge devotion and fatherdom for any progeny who happens to come along. So when Fedor receives a deathbed telegram from a past girlfriends (he isn’t quite sure who she is) summoning him to a distant small town to devote himself to her, he u-turns his rig from his shipping route to get there.
Fedor doesn’t make it in time to meet (and confirm he knows) the telegram girlfriend, but he is there in time to be assigned (per the will) the guardianship of her 16-year-old daughter: local terror Vera Mukhina (Alexandra Tyuftey) who has earned her nickname: “Mukha” (meaning “the fly”). The daughter, the will assures him, is his own.
Everything about this situation warns him off of it. His trucking buddy begs him to jump up in the cab and ride for the hills. The town itself generates an aura of menace and small town dirty dealings even before the town’s flock of hungry widows eye him like the latest piece of meat. (“Why are there no real men left alive in this town?” one of the women complains.)
But you see, at this stage in his life, Fedor wants to do the right thing, even if he isn’t sure it is his right thing, and even if it just might kill him. But despite his good intentions, the wild-as-in-rabid Mukha might not be above killing him to return to her independent life alone.
The first half hour watching this film, I thought I was watching a return to the slapsticky Soviet smalltown comedy, the kind of film where a stranger stumbles into an off-the-map farming community where they are perfecting the art of making vodka from everything: plants, animals, rocks, human feces. But as the film continues, the tone shifts from high register of farce (and farcical satire) into darker, candid drama.
Debut writer-director Vladimir Kott lands punches with his cultural and political commentary, but the farce broadstrokes belong not to the film but to the inner life of the characters themselves. As the story spirals around the father and daughter at its center, the capacity for these characters to reveal themselves, at first only smoldering, catches flame. The incongruous sides of their personality, supremely tough and painfully vulnerable, are not masks worn by an actor, but masks built up and painfully maintained by the characters.
Fedor and “Mukha” will not be protected by the rules of farce, brought into order by the end by higher principles. Their stakes are much higher, their yearning to make something of their lives too urgent to be resolved by slapstick and hijinks. This involuntary father/daughter couple has no rubric for how a family works, and the mad world they inhabit will not supply one. So they will have to build their own from scratch, a make-do large enough to provide both of them, built from the rubble of their lives, if such a thing exists.
— Matthew Griffin