Actor-director Grigory Dobrygin’s debut feature and IFFR Tiger Competitor Sheena667 tells the story of a Russian couple whose plans to travel to Europe and marriage both get derailed when the man meets a girl on the internet. While humour exposes the absurdity of the situation, the frozen landscape the film is set in underscores its characters’ growing isolation and inability to connect.
Vadim (Vladimir Svirskiy) and Olya (Yuliya Peresild) live in a remote Russian village near a track known as the ‘Road of Death’, an icy stretch of land where cars literally come to die. Vadim who makes his living by selling the parts from these destroyed cars, searches for a tow-truck on the internet, and thus lets into their quiet, planned lives an element whose ruinous forces they are soon unable to counter. Introduced to the Webcam world by a local who is familiar with its addictions, Vadim finds himself becoming increasingly involved with a girl (Jordan Frye) who has an account on a pornographic site by the name of ‘Sheena667’.
So alien is Vadim to this world of cyber communication and its highly artificial, unsentimental and commercialized nature that his naïve trust in it almost borders on the ludicrous. He knows next to nothing about her, including even her real name, and yet responds to her constant requests for money by destroying the funds he and Olya had set aside to travel to Germany. At one point, he is not even sure if the ‘Georgia’ that she is based in is the country or the American state. His physical distance from her world as well as his complete lack of understanding of its ways is highlighted most noticeably in the language barrier which he desperately tries to overcome by taking an elementary English course on the internet.
A few hesitating, confused exchanges and a glimpse of the harsher realities of Sheena’s life including a moment of abuse are enough to elicit his sympathy and evoke such love and desire for her that he hastens to arrange for an immediate visit. The sincerity of his feelings for her and the tragedy, deception and hopelessness that inevitably await him on that path almost counteract the foolishness and insensitivity with which he shatters their contented little world and neglects his loving wife.
Ironies abound in Dobrygin’s film which is divided into chapters whose titles operate on multiple levels. One called ‘Betrayal’ for instance is apparently about Vadim’s feelings when he discovers ‘Sheena’ on the webcam site even after she had promised to forsake it. But betrayal also and more firmly applies to Olya, all of whose attempts to win back her husband fall flat.
In one of its sharpest moments of irony, which is also seeped in a sense of the tragic, Vadim presents a picture of him and Olya, presumably from a happier time, to the visa officer as proof that he is married and hence has reasons to not stay back in America even as the scene ends on his conviction to do exactly that. Ultimately, the film, with its frosty, lonely setting, highlights its hero’s increasing disconnectedness from both worlds: the new one which he moves towards but doesn’t understand and the old, familiar one which he deliberately distances himself from.