Signs and Sounds of Cinematic Mystery

Iliyana Nedkova

The short film Autumn (Осень, 38 min, 2019, trailer ) is as much about the sprawling Russian rural landscape, reminiscent of Pskov’s river hinterland along Velikaya Reka, as it is about a (murder) mystery or two. Being the debut artist’s film by the Russian filmmaker and photographer Daria Elkonina, it was supposed to receive its UK premiere on 3 May 2020 in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick, dubbed ‘Scotland’s film town’ as part of the tenth edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival. With our culture under lockdown, its UK premiere went international as the festival’s diverse programme of selected films was livestreamed to the comfort of homes the world over for free. Elkonina’s film was perhaps the only work hailing from Russia, with a festival spotlight prime viewing slot on a Sunday afternoon. Autumn’s expanse of dream-like outdoor locations, its tribute to the slow cinema movement proponent Andrei Tarkovsky and the sound of resonating silence turned Elkonina’s film into an apt companion to our times of confinement and self-isolаtion.

Autumn seems to be shrouded in mystery from the start, building up a foreboding sense of sorrow and melancholy – from the vast, open vistas dominated by the most Russian of birch trees and firy of cloudscapes to the close-up studies of faces, hands and eyes who appear to be lost and ever-searching. The turning points in the film are signalled with the narrator’s deep voice which sounds like a cry for help following uncomfortable moments of silence and slow camera movement.

This omnipresent narrator appears to be the only witness or perpetrator of the murder of the lead female character left to linger in the woodlands. This impossibilty to attribute how this act of homicide was committed remains to swirl in the air like a flock of startled starlings as allegorically captured in the evocative scene of the frightened birds against the blue sky. As the final scene drags us into the unresolved mystery, pulling us deeper and deeper underwater towards the cold river bed as if shot in a silent forest of mangroves, the sound takes yet another surprising turn as a soothing Russian lullaby. But to no avail, the narrator’s memory of what really happened fails and the cinematic mystery prevails.