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DAU. Natasha - the most controversial film project at Berlinale 2020

DAU. Natasha - film works in Kharkiv, Ukraine
DAU. Natasha - film works in Kharkiv, Ukraine - fot.
I have to confess I wasn’t aware of all the controversy the film DAU. Natasha had provoked when I decided to go for a screening of this film. The controversy had circled around the production of the DAU project - shot as 700 hours raw material from 2008 to 2011 on set in Kharkiv/Ukraine - as well as in particular the torture scene of the DAU.Natasha installment depicting a women forced to insert a bottle into her vagina. I’d dare to guess that Russian main regisseur Ilya Khrzhanovsky deliberately choose to scandalize his DAU-films and its production on set as a kind of shock advertisement. Khrzhanovsky might have followed a trick often used by Vladimir Sorokin, the Russian playwright initially involved into his DAU project but parting soon over differences. However it was, let me write down, why I (dis)liked that film.

DAU. Natasha - grandest cinematic experiment in Russia
The film deals with the life of the Nobel Prize winner Soviet physician Lev Landau (1906-1968), called Dau. DAU.Natasha is an intimate examination of the banality of evil in totalitarian Stalinist times. In the first part of the film we follow the Moscow Research Institut buffet warden Natasha and her younger assistant Olga. Both women have a quarrelsome relationship full of verbal atrocities and alcoholic libations with and after their guests. During one of these meetings Natasha falls in love with a French scientist visiting the secret Soviet institute working on creating better workers and better people as such. A very slow camera shows us a graphic and probably not-staged sex scene between two people in their fifties. The film turns inevitably and Natasha is called for questioning by the security forces. Stalinist KGB officer Azhippo first talks nicely with her, but soon throws her into a torture cell. In her completely powerless situation Natasha reclaims in that film a small scope of action back, a moment giving some hope in a completely hopeless situation. 

Film set showing the Institut and the buffet Natasha worked in
Film set showing the Institut and the buffet Natasha worked in - fot.

DAU - A film? A political statement? An experiment?
I read later on that people left this film in masses. I did not experience that - I watched that film in the huge Friedrichstadtpalast cinema and saw nobody leaving the screening. But maybe I was too absorbed. Every third viewer was Russian speaking and most of them, like me, left dazzled and shocked at the end. “Well, reality was still much worse than when my grandparents lived” - a young Russian immigrant woman said. Somebody else mentioned last UN Human Rights reports on pro-Russian separatist prisons and tortures in Donbas (Ukraine) to create a link to present day reality in post-Soviet area. 
Together with my German friend we needed some vodkas and lots of talk to digest this film that evening. An interesting side aspect is original language also in the few dish washing songs, with a special mention of Russian and Ukrainian. What I missed was a more analytic view on totalitarianism because the presented individual view on evil is too little. But I do realize that there are at least 12 more parts in this monster project DAU. I hope what I meanwhile have read about the production on set isn’t true; including Khrzhanovsky’s alleged totalitarian approach of what to demand of his crew, his actors and actresses.  
Last but not least I would like to plead for watching films first and read reviews only later and not the other way round. Despite all controversy it was worth watching DAU.Natasha


DAU. Natasha is a 2020 Russian-Ukrainian-German-French-Swedish-Dutch co-produced drama directed by Ilya Khrzhanovsky and Jekaterina Oertel. It was selected for the 2020 Berlinale competition and got the Silver Bear for an Outstanding Artistic Contribution.


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