Going AWOL Review
By Mikah Wolanski (March 3rd, 2018)
Directed by: Sergey Tselikov
Written by: Sergey Tselikov
Produced by: Sergey Tselikov
Key Cast: Vlad Kuznetsov
There are very few modern films that are able to obtain a sensation of ‘timelessness’. And, what I mean by timelessness is a film that will age with grace; something that can be watched years after it’s completion and still hold up and connect with a modern day audience. This rarity is multiplied when it comes to modern day SHORT films, which seldom attract the ‘timeless’ label. However, we were lucky enough to come across one that achieved just that.
‘Going AWOL’ comes to us from Russian director Sergey Tselikov. This film, which is Tselikov’s directorial debut, was inspired by Tselikov’s experiences as a cadet during his teenage years. It follows Stork (Vlad Kuznetsov) and his cadet roommates on the night of Stork’s eighteenth birthday. As what any teenagers would decide to do, Stork’s fellow cadets desire to mark the young man’s birthday with a ‘finally legal’ celebratory drink. There’s only one problem; it’s past curfew and the young men are unsurprisingly short on alcohol. Although met with some resistance from some of the groups more cautious cadets, the young men decide to embark on a mission to get their much desired drinks and start Stork’s eighteenth birthday off with a bang.
What stands out first about this film is it’s visuals. Right from the beginning your thrashed into this stylized black and white film, shot on 35mm film. This was a potentially risky decision by Tselikov, as this could have easily come across as a blatant attempt to mimic classic cinema without reason – but this was simply not the case with this film. The stylistic choice to shoot black and white on true 35mm film was simply perfect and worked phenomenally for the story being told. This was one of the many reasons this film worked so well, and what makes me consider it a modern day short film classic. This stylistic decision could have easily not worked if it hadn’t been supported by such a timeless, simple story. Tselikov, who also wrote and produced the film, wrote such an honest and simple piece that truly resonates with the viewer. I mean, who can’t remember a time in their lives when they made silly decisions and acted up against authority? It’s a universal story that everyone can connect to – which makes total sense considering Tselikov pulled from his own personal experiences to shape this story.
I can’t continue discussing the mastery of this film without mentioning the cast and the overall performances. This was, in many ways, an ensemble performance. Although Stork was the primary focus, many of his cadet roommates (about 10 of them in total) had dialogue and quite substantial face time. Without solid performances from everyone and a strong directorial vision from Tselikov, this film could have easily fallen apart. Luckily, this cast was absolutely phenomenal and Tselikov has a clear gift for directing. Vlad Kuznetsov as Stork came across as such a veteran of the acting game, with small facial nuances saying so much without having to speak a word. He’s young, but clearly has a full grasp of his craft. His co-stars showed that they too had a knack for acting and demonstrated their many talents within this films 20 minute runtime.
Tselikov accomplished so much with this film. He created a story that connects to anyone who’s lived through childhood, or who’s decided to rebel against authority, or who’s been affected by peer pressure. So many decisions on how this film was crafted could have failed, but worked in such an utterly perfect way. Giving it the label of a modern day short film classic is absolutely earned, and was not given lightly. I believe this is a film that will stand the test of time, and is a clear sign of a very bright future for Sergey Tselikov, Vlad Kuznetsov, and all others who came together to make this film the success it truly was.
- Mikah Wolanski