Dunya Smirnova’s Kokoko (2012) plays out very much like a buoyant Mike Leigh film about social class and feminism – albeit with a deeply Russian sensibility – an exploration of cultural clashes within a delightfully comic framework. Big city living and country ways collide in this quaint tale of societal contrasts and artistic disparities. Meeting on a sleeper train between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Lisa (Anna Mikhalkova), an uptight and lonely ethnographer, and Vika (Yana Troyanova), a brazen and carefree party girl, find themselves drawn together when both of their belongings are stolen during the journey.
The kind-hearted Lisa offers Vika a place to stay until see can organise herself some money to pay for a new ID card. Despite their noticeable differences the two hit it off over a night of drinking and complaining about the unreliable men in their lives. As time goes by, Vika becomes part of the furniture in Lisa’s home, soon moving in, with each of them taking it upon themselves to enrich the others lives with the lessons they’ve learnt and the experiences they’ve gained.
Below the jovial surface of Kokoko, Smirnova is clearly exploring a social conflict, illuminating the lack of understanding between the country’s working class and the intelligentsia, whilst pulling both together through inherent desires such as to be loved and be cared for. Indeed, social satire can be found in abundance throughout Kokoko. It’s no coincidence that Lisa’s profession lies with the examining of different cultures – something that only amplifies her fascination with Vika – a trait Lisa’s intellectual friends fail to share, apart from the lustful men blinded by her attractiveness.
Concerned with the misunderstandings invoked by class and geographical differences, the film may have its underlying subtext, yet works far better as an out an out comedy of errors. Shot with the flow and grace of a French romantic comedy, this quaint gem of a movie finds its strength as a light-hearted romp through the streets of Saint Petersburg. A kitchen sink drama dressed in a faux-mink fur coat and left to marinade in a mixture of discarded vodka and domestic parody.
A friendship that officially begins in a police holding cell eventually finishes there, with this peculiar pair doomed to repeat the same mistakes thanks to an passionate cocktail of heightened emotions and the impenetrable mental barriers created by cultural habits. It’s this revolving door of emotive dependency that actually allows Kokoko to transcend its satirical origins, metamorphosing into something more aligned with a romantic comedy – a tale of unrequited love told through a dialogue of witty one-liners, drunken serenades and a sharp eye for humour.
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