Belarus’ first submission to the Academy Awards in 22 years follows a young DJ named Velya (Alina Nasibullina) who forges her US visa application but makes a typo with her fake employee’s phone number. Knowing the embassy will ring it and ruin her plans to escape her home, she tracks down the family whose number she put down and proceeds to spend a week there waiting for the phone call, disrupting the family’s wedding plans. What starts off rather promising soon turns into something rather limp and messy which is a shame as Alina Nasibullina’s performance deserves better.
The first act feels important and full of fresh ideas. Velya has a strained relationship with her mother (Svetlana Anikey) that is really intriguing. You want to find out more about how long they’ve been like this and if there’s more to its core than she’s just a disobedient child who likes house music. One of the film’s highlights involves Velya’s unnamed mother delivering a speech about her daughter early on that is really powerful. Sadly, this doesn’t ever get expanded upon. The other aspect of Velya’s home life is house music and raves, an interest she shares with her friend Alik (Yuriy Borisov). He’s a junkie and only cares about one thing, the Belka-Strelka rave he’s hosting. He’s there for comedic purposes only and soon his charm begins to wear off as he becomes another drug fuelled walking cliche.
The story really comes to a standstill when Velya quietly invades the family’s home and is treated, quite fairly, with not a lot of thought and care. Stepan (Ivan Mulin), the soon to be groom, is the first member of the family to not treat her with coldness. Velya doesn’t fall madly in love with him, a refreshing take as with no prior knowledge to the plot, I thought that’s what we were heading towards. The main problem however is that there’s no urgency and unlike the start, no sense of importance. We are presented with a few conflicts and emergencies, but each one is resolved rather quickly. And while the dark turn does somewhat plant its seeds throughout, it isn’t dealt with, with sufficient consequences. The farcical way the serious subject matter is handled in its aftermath only adds to the confusion.
Nasibullina’s central performance is what holds the rather lukewarm second half together. She has a quiet energy about her and delivers a number of brilliant understated moments. We can tell exactly what she’s feeling every time she enters a room before she even speaks. It’s a matured performance and while the film falters, Velya characterisation only gets stronger. As well as this, Crystal Swan has more lovely elements, including a 4:3 aspect ratio that adds to the overall visuals, giving the film a box like feel, reminiscent of the size of TV’s back in 1990’s Belarus. The footage of handheld recordings plastered over the opening credits really are done justice by the smaller screen. Sadly it’s another dynamic that looks great but doesn’t fit into the overall puzzle.
Director Darya Zhuk’s latest effort begins with intriguing elements, but slowly loses its way before coasting to its endgame. While the film boasts an undoubtedly strong performance from Alina Nasibullina, everything else doesn’t come together naturally. A real shame as there’s a lot of potential hidden under the final product that doesn’t come to fruition.