Elixir (Berlin Review)
A good film doesn’t always have to make sense. In some cases, a film’s perceived impenetrability might act as an invitation to theorize and discuss what’s going on; in other cases, a film can hit certain emotional notes or elicit reactions through its own filmmaking to create a rich experience. None of those scenarios apply to Daniil Zinchenko’s Elixir, which tries for a combination of sci-fi, fairy tale, religious parable, and political commentary, and winds up with a painful, mutated mishmash Seth Brundle would be proud of.
Taking place in a large, forested area, Elixir sets up a storyline it barely follows: a scientist (Oleg Rudenko) working on an elixir that can resurrect the dead assigns his assistant (Sergey Frolov) to collect the ingredients necessary to complete his mixture. Those ingredients are DNA from two cosmonauts, two guerillas, and “Him,” which might refer to a carpenter (Aleksandr Gorelov) getting hunted down by a businessman (Dmitriy Zhuravlev) because of his ability to turn water into oil.
A large amount takes place at a swamp within the film’s vast, rural setting, which turns out to go well with the slow, trudging experience of watching Elixir. Zinchenko’s blunt, obvious symbolism, and references to contemporary Russia aren’t hard to grasp, but understanding how all the pieces fit together is another story altogether. Adding to the frustration is Zinchenko’s decision to frame most of his film in long shots so he can deliberately obscure what’s going on in a scene, a choice that doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than providing more confusion (at one point he even blocks a scene so the main action gets covered by a bush in the middle of the frame). If there was a feeling of cohesion with any of this, or at least a sense that Zinchenko wasn’t just combining a bunch of underdeveloped ideas, Elixir might have provided some fun with its eccentricities. Instead, it’s just a pile of mush made up of boring quirks and unsubtle metaphors, adding up to pure, wasteful nonsense.