In Deep Sleep REVIEW | Berlinale 2020

In Deep Sleep is a fascinating experiment in representing the difficulty of losing a loved one.

Muscovite Maria Ignatenko In Deep Sleep

A wispy and trancelike mood piece, In Deep Sleep keenly captures the disorientation that losing a loved one can cause. While too slight to have much deep impact, In Deep Sleep is an intriguing artistic experiment by Muscovite Maria Ignatenko.

Viktor (Vadik Korolyov) is at sea when he is notified that his wife has been killed in a car crash. His compatriots at sea aren’t interested in giving him much support, hosting a party with prostitutes instead. The next day Viktor leaves, kicking off a dream-like odyssey across an unnamed, snow-covered port city.

Functioning more like poetry than prose, its non-linear format — split into three chapters bookmarked by a prologue and epilogue — stresses the way that time folds back in on itself when confronting a huge loss. Viktor, finding little outlet to express his emotions, aimlessly wanders the city, searching for some way to move on from unimaginable pain.

While films with such dreamlike tones can often send the viewer to sleep, the relatively short 70-minute runtime of In Deep Sleep allows the director to take high-minded risks. The film is filled with elliptical storytelling, digressive camera pans and lengthy takes, avoiding narrative in favour of mood.

This is a world that feels barely awake, shot mostly at night, trapped in Ignatenko’s slow cinema style. At times the very fabric of the film threatens to be overwhelmed by atmospherics. Slow, thoughtful shots are more concerned with the texture of surfaces than aiding storytelling, making for a gorgeous watch that is also just a touch unengaging.

The most interesting thing in the film is the sound design, which eschews a traditional soundtrack in favour of subtle noises, like the rushing of waves, the whirring of machines and the wind howling over a barren landscape. Sometimes it even cuts to complete silence, creating an uncomfortable world from which Viktor finds no escape.

Vadik Korolyov’s performance is suitably muted as sleepwalker Viktor, helping to create a sense of disorientation and deep sadness. When things do get violent, the style barely changes; the film unafraid to show how such a loss can wrap everything into a dreamlike haze.

In Deep Sleep is bookmarked by a court case, the statements of judges, witnesses and prosecutors showing how legal language is unable to grasp the difficulty of Viktor’s situation. I cannot find myself commenting upon Viktor’s state with any of the same confidence as these Russian lawmakers, much of the film lost in subtleties of tone and cultural nods specific to Russia. Perhaps there is some deeper comment about toxic masculinity here and the way it cannot allow healthy modes of expression, but Ignatenko doesn’t put too fine a point upon it, her enigmatic style allowing the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the material.

What can be decisively said is that Ignatenko has a strong and brave filmmaking style. The use of actual seafarers to play the men on the trawler, as well as the grey, depressing colours of the film, find an unusual way and mostly effective way to represent the immense difficulty of loss.

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Muscovite Maria Ignatenko In Deep Sleep
While too slight to have much commercial potential, In Deep Sleep is a fascinating experiment in representing the difficulty of losing a loved one.