Years ago, working covertly with a small and easily concealed camera in-hand was a common story among filmmakers in the countries that made up the former Eastern Bloc. However, despite the fall of the Soviet Union over two decades ago, French filmmaker Jonathan Taieb still found himself laying low for his most recent project, Stand.
Stand is a Russian-language film that deals with homophobia existing within modern-day Russia. A narrative drama, the film follows Anton and his boyfriend Vlad, who happen to drive past an apparent gay bashing taking place in Moscow. Wanting to get out and help, Anton insists that Vlad stop the car. However, Vlad manages to keep Anton from heading into harm’s way, instead driving away quickly.
Learning that the man they saw beaten eventually died from his injuries, Anton becomes obsessed with investigating the murder. Knowing that the local police will do nothing about finding justice for a murdered homosexual, Anton convinces Vlad to help him uncover the murderer. The two men enlist the help of Katya, the daughter of Anton’s employer who is studying journalism in Paris. Together they find the murdered man’s family and social contacts, and begin setting up sting operations with men they think may have had a hand in the murder.
As time passes, Anton grows more and more obsessed. His obsession puts a terrible strain on his relationship with Vlad and the two men separate. Katya returns to school and Anton is left alone, still trying to complete his quest. That is, until Andrey steps in and offers to help Anton, taking him two hours outside of Moscow to meet someone in the forest. The meeting, however, proves to be more than Anton had bargained for.
The film takes a bold and unapologetic look at Russia’s climate towards homosexuality, particularly in light of recent legislature prohibiting displays and use of gay propaganda. The resulting social stigma surrounding homosexuality seems to have pushed some elements of Russian culture back into the Dark Ages, creating a society where homosexuals are treated like animals who can be kidnapped and beaten with little or no recourse.
Filmmaker Taieb does well to paint this reality in an honest light while still managing to develop his fictional characters and move his story forward. The result is a very true-to-life story against a terrible and unfortunate backdrop. In fact, the low-budget production was shot entirely in not-so-gay-friendly Ukraine…and entirely in secret due to the subject matter.
Shot handheld, some audiences may have trouble adjusting to some of the erratic camera movement and loose focus. However, Taieb’s cinematography actually offers an intimate view of the story and characters, at times placing the audience in a first person view in a country where homosexuals are forced to live quietly and full of fear. A careful reminder of how important it is that we stand together for equality.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of TLA Releasing