Simple Things is Sergei Maslov, an anesthetist suffering from a sense of failure only aggravated by his cramped St. Petersburg apartment and financial troubles. Marvelously played by theater director Sergei Puskepalis in his first film role, Maslov is emotionally detached but surrounded by people with whom he must interact on a daily basis. We meet him just as his attempts at an affair with a receptionist at his clinic crumble-at the same time that his teenage daughter runs away with her boyfriend and his wife announces that she's unexpectedly pregnant. However, a side gig for extra cash-giving an acerbic old actor injections for his pain-opens the way to a fragile but potentially life-changing friendship. Director Aleksei Popogrebsky steers clear of both melodrama and high drama, choosing instead a humor-laced approach to storytelling that is refreshingly straightforward-playfully inventive dialog, an abundance of absorbing details, probing close-ups, and a vérité-like moving camera. The result is surprisingly rich: Maslov could easily be an idealized Everyman struggling to get by, but in Popogrebsky's hands he becomes pleasingly specific and real, his concreteness as a human being imbuing the film with more meaning than any imposed message or moral. Winner of most of the major prizes at the 18th Kinotavr Film Festival (Russia's foremost film event) and various prizes at other festivals, Simple Things is the second film from a director who studied to be a psychologist before turning to cinema. Such an education is certainly no guarantee of success in filmmaking, but in Popogrebsky's subtle yet remarkably assured direction, we can sense a distinct delight-paired with a remarkable acuity-in observing and pondering how people interact.
At the center-and in every scene-of
Alexei Popogrebsky b. 1972) studied psychology at Moscow State University. During his studies, he teamed up with Boris Khlebnikov to make the short film Passing By (Mimokhod, 1994). A few years later they both debuted Koktebel (2003), which won the Silver St. George award at the Moscow International Film Festival and the Philip Morris Award Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2003. The film was screened to critical acclaim at numerous other international festivals. Simple Things is Popogrebsky's solo debut.