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HARMONY BY LIDIA SHEININ

Lidia Sheinin’s Harmony is a documentary exploring the life of a young woman, a mother of four, who had moved into the flat of her elderly grandma, so that she could look after her. However, this arrangement is not easy for either side living under one roof and sharing the same space. And here, the setting in which this life unfolds, the space of a small Soviet decrepit flat, full of old things and haunted by memories, also plays an important role. The film begins in a small Soviet-style kitchen with all the protagonists gathered together: an elderly old-fashioned irritable grandmother, four little energetic children playing with their toys and a single woman looking after them all – a situation which can drive anyone mad.

The grandmother’s character develops throughout the story. Because of her age and fragile health, she is sharing the apartment with the niece and her four children. This is something which the old lady resists and appreciates at the same time. She comes across as someone deeply unhappy with her life, bereft of her calm and constantly checking her grandchildren and telling them off, asking them to leave the room and even calling them devils. At every moment her memories and fine family keepsakes, and also her beloved piano, are subject to danger of being attacked by the wild energy of  the tireless quartet of naughty little children.


However, there is a different side to her, artistic and desperate for love. She is very fond of her piano and enjoys spending time playing music. She values the efforts made by her niece, and the viewer can sense her awkward affection for the great-grandchildren at the moments when she tries to hug them or smuggle a secret biscuit under the table when the mother is not watching.

There is no background story, and the director leaves her visual observations open to the interpretation of the audience. Sheinin is simply observing with her camera, without intervening. The film shows at times an atmosphere that can make the viewer feel desperate and even suffocating: the desperation of the grandmother, the patience of the mother and the bouncing energy of the children. And yet, it is exactly this clash of three family generations, which leads to uneasy but humorous situations and makes one hopeful, or even amused, while observing this situation, which many Russian people experience on a daily basis (in Soviet times, it was difficult to get a new flat, now — almost impossible to buy one). In this way, the film can be called life-affirming, as there is a certain sense of love and care, which pervades the whole narrative, despite the discomfort and uneasiness. It is this touching love and care which brings the glimpse of harmony into an uneasy family situation, where space of every member is being inevitably invaded. All in all, this tension and contrast make Sheinin’s work a truly remarkable, touching in its humanity,  and thought-provoking watch.

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