Thursday, June 15, 2006

One to watch: DINA KORZUN

Pauline Kael once wrote that cinema can give us almost everything. One of them surely is ration for our collective narcissistic appetite. Looking at the human figure blown up to the size of a house is one of the pleasures of seeing films, one that finds its pinnacle in the close-up, probably cinema's greatest contribution to the ego. The star system and celebrity culture, the contemporary, rather less glamorous version of the Golden Age predecessor, are the industry’s response to that craving.

I personally don't care very much for screen actors because I think cinema is a director's medium and most of them these days are so excruciatingly boring - Kirsten Dunst and Leonardo DiCaprio spring to mind. I'm not a member of the cult of the auteur either, except for a few exceptions who I worship. But I do believe that film actors are mostly marionettes and that most of the decisions that define the final product are the incumbency of the film’s director.

Occasionally I fall in love with an actress, rarely with actors, since the female image is more loaded with myth than men's - women have a mystery that thrives in the dark recesses of the celluloid sphere. Irène Jacob in Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique remains one of the most unforgettable cinematic moments when an actor transcends the puppet role and becomes a collaborator without whom the film would be less memorable. I think I recently came across an actress who provided me with a similar film moment: Dina Korzun.

I saw Korzun for the first time in the upcoming film 40 Shades of Blue by American independent director Ira Sachs (due out in the UK on 30 June, the only European date set so far). The film won the jury prize at Sundance last year and it is one of the best dramas I've seen in a long time, an American film with a very European texture, which is of course enhanced by the presence of the Russian Korzun.

Often dubbed 'the Russian Julia Roberts', a comparison which does no justice to Korzun, who is much more charming and interesting than the scary-looking Roberts, she had previously been seen in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Last Resort (2000). A famous and respected actress in her native Russia, the 35-year-old has a luminous, graceful and compelling screen presence. Add to that to Sachs' Ken Loach-inspired intimate and observational photography and Dina will hold you hypnotised for the duration of the film (good news: she is in almost every scene of 40 Shades…).

She plays the Russian trophy wife (Laura) of an aging musical legend in Memphis (also the location of Sachs’ previous feature, The Delta – he’s from there), Alan James (played by a satyr-like Rip Torn). Sachs focused on a character that normally in life would be in a supporting position, obscured by a strong man. It is a moving, brave portrait of a woman, who Korzun fleshes out with amazing skill, meticulous attention to detail and charisma. Talk about from Russia with love...

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