Review first published (in a different form) by Sight and Sound
“Where am I?” asks a man near the beginning of Pavel Khvaleev’s directorial debut III. He had been a patient in quarantine at a clinic, but has now resurfaced in the middle of a mist-filled lake, as disoriented as the viewer. Before his removal from the clinic, three streams of blood were seen dripping down its tiled walls, in a visual reference to the film’s title.
That title, like the film itself, comes with mysterious, ritualistic resonances. Three is the number of shamanic journeys that Ayia (Polina Devydova) will eventually take into the troubled subconscious of her ailing sister Mirra (Lyubov Ignatushko), in the hope of saving her from a deadly disease that is plaguing the town’s population (and has already killed the girls’ mother). Yet the title seems also to involve a pun on the English word ‘ill’ (much as the film also plays at one point on the similarity of Mirra’s name to the English word ‘mirror’).
In this dreamy space of free associations and interlinguistic slippage, Khvaleev has crafted a confusing, contradictory world where a hallucinatory alternative universe exists in parallel to the town’s reality, where an electro-industrial score modulates the community’s at times medieval-seeming present, and where Christian and pagan commingle uneasily – especially in the ambiguous person of the local priest, played by Eugeniy Gagarin. Despite its odd anti-clerical, anti-authoritarian streak, the film may ultimately feel abstract to the point of emptiness, but it is an aesthete’s wet nightmare. For like Tarsem Singh’s The Cell or Christopher Nolan’s Inception as reimagined by Andrei Tarkovsky, III’s vision is beautifully, headily captivating.