Jacob Richardson | 5/11/2019

While Mistresses might redefine your expectations of Russian cinema, with its fun tone and upbeat nature, production quality issues hamper what this could have been.

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Mistresses follows three young women after they break up with the married men they had been sleeping with. Alisa (Aleksandra Bortich), Ira (Paulina Andreeva) and Masha (Yuliya Aleksandrova) don’t know each other, but after an incredibly drunken night drowning their sorrows together, they wake up with one thing on their mind; revenge. Together they start up a secret society designed to take down cheating men.


Directed by Elena Hazanov, Mistresses is probably not the sort of film you expect to see at this years Russian Resurrection Film Festival. Indeed, it probably isn’t the sort of film you’d expect to associate with Russia at all. For years we have been conditioned to expect dour, dramatic works from the Russia, and yet Mistresses, for all its flaws, is a helluva lot of fun. 


Part of this comes down to the story, which is light, frequently punchy and laugh filled. The central trio’s relationship is particularly good fodder for wisecracks and laughs, and there is something undeniably joyful about watching these three take their revenge on cheating men; a tone tremendously struck by Hazanov right from the outset with a supercut of caught out husbands explaining their secret wives to their mistresses (all direct to camera).


The tone of the piece is also optimistic. As the trio go through the inevitable and predictable travails of a piece of cinema in this ilk (business success, humorous take downs, a dramatic falling out, a final important job to bring them back together), the tone is fundamentally hopeful; shown nowhere more so than in the finale when the three choose hope for love over fame, fortune and glory. 


From a performance perspective, what we see is generally fine. These aren’t standout performances to stand the test of time, but they also aren’t unwatchable - particularly from the leads, and Andreeva who undoubtedly takes a position of primacy amongst the plot and the performance quality. 


In the end though, budget issues constrain what could have been. There is an intense use of split screen to try and add a feeling of vivacity to scenes, particularly the more humorous party ones. The set pieces, particularly the television show at the end, feel small and like sets. The colour grade feels amateurish, and the closed captioning frequently very far away from what you would imagine an actual sentence to look like. 


That’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential here. If only there was funding available to leap over the inevitable production hurdles, and to take three or four more passes at the script to shift it away from cliche-ism, this could have been a great film. Instead, it will likely go down as an enjoyable but unmemorable film in every way but for proving that Russian cinema can be fun. 


Enjoyable and easy watching, but also somewhat disappointing in its shortcomings.


The Russian Resurrection Film Festival hits Brisbane screens from the 5th to the 13th of November and showcases a heap of Russian content, from big budget fantasies with Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Journey To China) to festival darlings on the international circuit like Beanpole and Odessa, and even comedies like Mistresses. You can get tickets at the button below!