The Man Who Surprised Everyone: BRWC Raindance Review. By Matt Keay.
‘The Man Who Surprised Everyone’ the second feature from directorial team Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov, is a bold and enlightening take on an old Russian folk tale. Drawing on both the traditional for inspiration, and the contemporary for message, the film is a powerful moral tale.
Egor (Evgeniy Tsiganov) is a state forest guard in the Siberian taiga. He is quiet and placid, even when faced with the news that his life is about to be cruelly cut short by cancer. He is married to Natalia (Natalya Kudryashova), an optimistic, cheery woman, who is pregnant with their second child. The couple, in their desperation to cure Egor of his illness, visit an old Inuit woman for a ritual to rid his body of the disease.
It is there that Egor hears the folk tale of Zhamba the drake, who managed to cheat Death by rolling around in the dirt, disguising himself as a female duck in a flock, so that the Grim Reaper could not pick him out. Inspired by the story, and in a drunken stupor, Egor returns home that night, and decides on a new course of action.
Here, the narrative shifts. Egor reasons that, in order to cheat death he must disguise himself, and make it so that he will never be discovered. He visits a store to buy clothes and make up, locks himself in the tool shed; emerging changed, disguised, presenting herself to the village as a woman, hopeful that the deception will save her life. Egor’s decision invites wrath from the villagers; upon herself and her family, resulting ultimately in her banishment.
From this point, the film becomes two singular beasts. Becoming its own folk tale, we follow Egor as she is ostracised by the largely conservative community and her family, also. Not only that, but the film explores the violence of a patriarchal community, and the cruelty Egor receives as she decides to live her life outside of the heteronormativity of rural Siberia.
Surely a step in the right direction for a country with such harsh anti-LGBTQ+ laws, ‘The Man Who Surprised Everyone’ deftly blends contemporary issues with traditional customs. This effective combination exposes hypocrisy, condemns prejudice, and lauds individualism, bringing together the old and the new in a way rarely seen before.
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