Berlinale review: Trap (2022)

Berlinale Shorts Competition
Golden Bear Winner

©Anastasia Veber

An icy colour-palette, lingering shots of water and grass, fluid cinematography and a careful modulation of tone: Golden Bear winner for Best Short Trap seems to tick all the boxes of classical Russian cinema. Creating a fragmented portrayal of a lost, tightly-controlled generation longing for catharsis, it establishes Saint Petersburg-native Anastasia Veber as a bold stylist, but gets lost in vague feelings rather than creating a genuinely acute work of observation.

Marina (Elizaveta Broshkova) dances in the club, soundtracked by hollowed-out music that captures her interior state — searching for a catharsis that never comes. Her brother Sasha (Ignat Dvoinikov) picks her up, quite literally, and takes her home. He’s later stopped by the police for no apparent reason, Sasha caught in a wide shot that contrasts him against hundreds of other citizens, all of them focused on their own lives while living within a heavily policed state. (It’s depressingly accurate: I’ve been randomly stopped myself on the Moscow metro, probably on account of the thick beard I was sporting, but once they saw my Irish passport, they immediately let me carry on with my day.)

And if hardcore partying and police brutality isn’t enough to show the travails of modern Russian youth, Veber chucks in Olympic training rituals too; from hardcore feet routines to cycling with a cyborg-like mask. Even with a 20-minute runtime, these moments are fleetingly told and fluidly edited, as the shaved-head boys develop jealousy over girls and suspect each other of thievery.

All these feelings and moments, caught between oppression and release, intimacy and alienation, culminate with a strange lurch into abstract dance. On a conceptual level, it makes perfect sense. Ending with a dance number can be a great way to release hitherto pent up feelings, as seen in Beau Travail or, more recently, Another Round. However, in a shorter form, you’re assuming a large amount of good will on behalf of the audience. It’s a marvel to watch, and keenly choreographed — kids punching and swerving like drunks, their tongues sticking out, eyes glazed over, all melding into one tragic hive — but it doesn’t feel earned. Rather it feels like a neat device to bring together a variety of disparate impressions.

I can see why it won the Golden Bear: as the title suggests, it skilfully depicts young Russian adults caught in a trap; whether it’s meeting the pressure of sporting glory, asserting alpha dominance, or finding freedom from the police. And it cleverly collapses all of that into an absurd showdown that puts all men and women on a level plane. It’s well-edited, cleverly blocked and finely-acted, but the final story and execution denied me the sense of euphoria that the extravagant finale demanded. Still, I hope it’s not the last we hear of Veber: the Russian youth, especially right now, need every fresh voice they can get.

Country: Russia, Lithuania
Language: Russian
Year: 2022
Runtime: 19’57”
Written and Directed by: Anastasia Veber
Cinematography by: Anton Gromov and Egor Sevastyanov
Edited by: Konstantin Koryagin, Dmitry Novikov and Anastasia Veber
Sound Design: Veniamin Volfson
Music: Bhima Unusov
Art Direction: Zlata Kalmina
Produced by: Anastasia Veber and Anastasia Braiko
Co-Producted by: Diana Gulina and Klaipeda