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KARLOVY VARY 2018 Competition

Review: Jumpman

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- KARLOVY VARY 2018: Ivan I Tverdovsky's third feature is his most dynamic and technically polished, but also least humane and touching, film to date

Review: Jumpman
Denis Vlasenko in Jumpman

Russian filmmaker Ivan I Tverdovsky has returned to Karlovy Vary for the third time with Jumpman [+see also:
trailer
interview: Ivan I Tverdovsky
film profile
]
 and picked up a Special Jury Mention in the main competition to boot. Keeping his focus on special individuals looking for their place in the community, as he did with physically and intellectually challenged teenagers in 2013's devastating Corrections Class [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivan I Tverdovsky
film profile
]
and with a woman with a tail in 2016's intriguing Zoology [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivan I Tverdovsky
film profile
]
, in his latest film, the director has a sort of anti-superhero as the protagonist. But this time around, the characters in the movie serve more as tools for a statement about the corrupt and brutal nature of Russian society than real human beings with particular characteristics.

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Teenager Denis (Denis Vlasenko, in his first feature role) was abandoned as a child by his mother and lives in an orphanage. He has congenital analgesia, a disorder that makes it impossible for him to feel physical pain. Now his mother Oksana (Anna Slyu, from Night Watch) is back to claim him, but as the orphanage director will not let him leave, as he does not trust her, the two come up with an escape plan, and Denis ends up in Oksana's filthy-rich social circles. 

It is easy to recognise the attractive blonde as a gold digger as we meet her friends, comprising fishy businessmen and corrupt officials, cops, lawyers and judges. Immediately, they find a way to put Denis' talents to good use: he could jump in front of a speeding car (always owned by a rich person), and then, through a well-oiled mechanism that requires the participation of a police officer, an ER doctor, a prosecutor, a defence lawyer and a judge, they could extort huge amounts of money from said person. There is no way the victims of their scam can emerge unscathed – the system is foolproof, and they can choose between prison time or payout. 

At first, Denis likes the arrangement, as he gets to live the high life with his mother in her posh apartment (a gift from an ex-husband), but as their partners become more and more greedy, his frequent injuries seem to start accelerating his capacity to feel pain, and the boy protests. While we are definitely not surprised by the harsh response from the cop and his legal co-conspirators, it is Oksana's selfish reaction that hammers home the film's thesis: in contemporary Russian society, one is needed only as long as one serves one’s purpose.

Jumpman is Tverdovsky's most technically polished and dynamic film to date – the 87 minutes of running time go by in a flash. Denis Alarcón Ramírez's luxurious cinematography fluidly captures both the action and dialogue scenes, and works especially well in the nocturnal settings. Tverdovsky's own editing would have had just the right rhythm in alternating between Denis' life in this enchanting and treacherous world, and the ups and downs of his inner psychological state – if the latter had been properly developed. But by forgoing character development to focus on a society about which we have lately seen some stronger films (with Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andrey Zvyagintsev
film profile
]
serving as an outstanding example), the writer-director has left us with Denis and Oksana as mere types, rather than as real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Ultimately, this undermines the power of the film's message.  

Jumpman is a co-production by Russia's New People Film Company, Lithuania's TremoraFilm and Music Entertainment Ireland and France's Arizona Productions. Warsaw-based New Europe Film Sales has the international rights.

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