SHADOWY, TWISTY AND MUST-SEE. – Generation P: Edward Crabtree’s blog.
Russian television goes Scandinoir – and it works.
Caught between the pincers of the
pandemic on the one hand and the war with Ukraine on the other, the television
psycho-thriller Cold Shores (Holodniye Berega) and its second
season of July 2022 Cold Shores
Return (Holdniye Berega: Vozrasheniye) first reached the Russian viewing public on
October 14th three years ago in the form of 8 fifty minute episodes.
Coming from the unexpected source of
Star Media, purveyors of heartwarming family melodramas, this small screen
classic is what I would show to someone should I want to provide them with an
example of Russian television at its best.
It says a lot that the user reviews
of this show have been positive, even if some of the local critics have been a
bit guarded. The biggest caveat I can make to add to the endorsement which
follows is that this glitzy whodunnit does owe a great debt to certain crime
dramas that have been coming out of Denmark and Sweden for the last decade.
Monster in a gated city.
Set in the closed off plutonium
enriched city of Ozerk, the show was in fact filmed in Rybinsk in the Yaroslavl
The core premise – even with all of
its misdirection – could not be simpler.
In the winter months, a serial strangler of women is menacing the city. The
perpetrator targets women with a particular look and removes their wedding
rings and sometimes disfigures them.
A rookie police investigator and Daddy’s Girl (whose father is a top brass in the force himself) comes to be charged with overseeing this perplexing case. Her name is Alina Novinsky.
You will get no spoilers from me and
just reiterating the plot details could not do justice to the impact it has anyway.
Suffice it to say that Alina’s friends and family are all sucked into the case which
follows. She falls for one of the suspects who has lost his wife. This new
lover later meets a carbon copy of this missing spouse leaves and then Alina
for this new woman. Meanwhile, her father becomes disabled and retires and her
colleague’s wife is slaughtered by the killer…and so on. Throughout it all a
string of near watertight suspects needs to be discarded as so many false
Select line up.
Ekaterina Vilkova, the 38-year-old
actress from Nizhny Novgorod, made her name as the Dreamboat Girlfriend in the
frothy Boy’s Own fantasy adventure Black Lightning (Chornaya Molniya,
2009). Ten years on Vilkova seems to have gained gravitas, being more striking
than pretty and with an ability to suggest shifts of emotion with almost imperceptible
alterations to her face.
The brooding 49-year-old from
Krasnoyarsk, Kirill Safonov, takes the part of Alina’s new love interest
whereas the Ukrainian born 34-year-old Alexander Gorbatov is his would-be
paramour. The distinctive craggy looks of one Igor Kriphunov (best known as a
permanent fixture in Svyatoslav Podgaevsky’s horror movie cycle) also appear.
One of my favourite actors, Alexander Yatso shows up for the sequel and he more or less reprises the role he portrayed in Akademia – a criminal psychologist.
A special call out should go to the man who played Alina’s father – Sergei Puskepalis. I remember this chunky actor for his role as the severe and stony-faced military officer in the disaster film Ledokol (Ice Breaker) from 2016. Alas, in an off -screen disaster this talented screen presence passed away in September of this year following a road accident in his home town of Yaroslavl.
Son of the strangler.
Cold Shores: The Return catches up with the same cluster of characters three years on. Now, however, another depraved maniac is leaving a trail of female corpses in the snow in what appears to be a copycat of the previous case. Nevinsky has moved on to being a psychologist but her association (and notoriety) in connection with the earlier case brings her back into the fold of police investigation.
This time she has to contend with the
cynical prying eyes of a popular blogger. She has a demanding teenage son who
composes electronic dance music and has fallen out of love with her returned
husband… and much else besides. Again, the narrative teases us with an identity
parade of credible culprits. Then an ingenious rationale is given for the least
expected one being the actual criminal.
It might seem that the Cold Shores
franchise (if we can already call it that) represents a standard issue post
-Scandinoir Whodunit thriller in a market already saturated with this subgenre.
Yet from the opening montage of the misty ice encrusted roads and bridges of Rybinsk-cum-Ozersk
and the corresponding ruminating score by Vladimir Mayevsky and Mikhail
Khimakov, the viewer senses something superlative is on the way.
The tale, told via the point of view of a number of characters, has enough of a measured pacing so as to allow the script to breathe and the characters to unfold. Attention has been paid to detail. For example, one of the investigators has the stimming habit of opening and closing a cigarette lighter. All this and the eerie mood music, the borderline exotic location and the spaghetti junction of twists and cliff hangers leads us to overlook any contrivances of the plot.
The U.S.P here is domestic melodrama
(of the kind that Star Media does so well) spliced with a psychological
thriller: a Dostoevsky tale told in a Hitchcockian style and set in an up-to-the
-minute world of ever vibrating mobile phones.
Scandinavian or not?
The producers of Cold Shores have
taken copious notes from the Scandinavian noir rulebook. One: get a lead who is
a glamorous but relatable young woman. Two: plonk her in an overlooked but
photogenic city. Three: surround her with a cast of tried and trusted character
actors. Three: pile on the revelations and unmasking. Then throughout it all
assume that the audience possesses some intelligence. It works, for sure.
Where they have differed from this
template is also the very way this show can be marked out as Russian. It lies
in the lack of any kind of sociopolitical slant. Unlike Trom (Denmark/Faroe
Islands, 2022)or The Bridge (Denmark/Sweden, 2011) and, in
particular, Henning Mankell’s Wallander (Sweden, 2005 – 2010)there
can be seen no tilt at overarching corporate power – and this in a drama set in
city notable for its secretive involvement in nuclear weapons production!
Instead we get a family melodrama – complete with aspirational interiors –
glorified as a suspenser.
Unlike so much of contemporary Russian small screen fare though, Cold Shores does not fall back on sidearm and shoot out porn to keep up the interest. Also the bleakness of its world view is much redeemed by the sense throughout that all the flawed characters really need each other.