In 2009, the largest film set ever constructed in Europe was born. Several hundred cast and crew members left their everyday lives to attend to this set, where they would completely alter their identity to match the exact personalities and mannerisms of a person living during the Soviet Cold War era. The project is now infamously known as DAU, a meticulous historical simulation where the objective was to completely reenact essential moments in Soviet Cold War history. The project went on for approximately three years, where relationships sparked and troublesome abuse allegations arose. Though the confounding nature of the project shouldn’t surprise anyone. For any art project that deals with a size of this ambitious magnitude, there will always be ethical concerns; especially when actual babies were conceived and delivered on set during the three-year time span. Over 700 hours of footage later, the heads of the project cut various amounts of scenes and characters into several feature length films. The most notable film from the project is DAU. Natasha, which was unleashed into the world at the 2020 Berlin Festival in official competition.
If there’s anything to directly complement director’s Ilya Khrzhanovsky & Jekaterina Oertel on DAU. Natasha, it has to be their dedicated commitment to realism. Nothing is saturated or altered in the duo’s vision, where it primarily focuses on a hostess working at a soviet canteen located on the site of a high-security science laboratory. The film is as simple as it sounds, where we follow the titular hostess Natasha through her perilous days at work, encountering different characters and situations throughout her daily routine. As the film progresses, the more clear it becomes that Khrzhanovsky & Oertel wanted to convey a theme of social frustration. A frustration that comes from the subject of humiliation. DAU. Natasha is primarily an introspective look at how oppressive regimes control the working class, all the way down to their very method of thinking. Through constant repetition and elongated sequences of drinking, torture, and sex; DAU. Natasha becomes a relentless cinematic rollercoaster.
As said previously with the comment about the film’s realism, every single element of the DAU. Natasha is very much real. Sex is unsimulated, where actual obscene acts are committed on camera. The torture is very much real, where the audience is forced to sit and watch our lead heroine as she faces unjustified punishment from her oppressors. It’s grueling to watch, and sometimes it feels like hellbent historical porn — pornography that simply serves to shock its audience, through depraved scenes and shots. The realism of the film less-so supplements the enriching subject matter, and more so evolves into a nastier creature of its own ideas and motives.
DAU. Natasha is harrowing and disturbed art-house cinema at its most daunting. Ending on a high-note of re-incorporated melancholia, the film is a miserably entertaining piece of work. For those select few who are intrigued by the concept of the DAU project and DAU. Natasha, just be prepared to endure hours of murky-tinted soviet-themed melodrama. A film with an essential purpose, but one that is executed with needless shock value, DAU. Natasha is an adequate piece of reenactment drama with a ghastly artistic edge.
Dir: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy & Jekaterina Oertel
Scr: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy & Jekaterina Oertel
Cast: Natalia Berezhnaya, Olga Shkabarnya, Vladimir Azhippo, Alexei Blinov, Luc Bigé
DOP: Jürgen Jürges
Country: Germany, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Russia
Run time: 139 minutes
DAU. Natasha screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema as part of the Les Nouveaux Alchimistes program.