The Complete Package: review of indie documentary Life is Art

Film review: Life is Art

Dir/Prod: Oksana Sokol

Where do I start with this sublime piece of screen art? It is intriguing and creative and compelling right from the opening images.

Director/producer, Oksana Sokol has used every piece of artistry available to her to build a complex homage to the Russian contemporary artist and iconoclast, Anatol Brusilovsky.

Poster for Life is Art indie documentary

Brusilovsky is known internationally for his collage work. The editors of Life is Art, Vladimir Ashikhmin and Lana Chesnokova, make the right choice in matching form to content by extensively using split screen and masking. This playfulness mirrors Brusilovsky's personality and sets this film firmly in the genre of art documentary. The colours are over-saturated in a good way. Bright blues and rich browns paint a vibrant portrait of Moscow and stimulate the viewer's imagination.

The film is almost entirely made up of interviews with Brusilovsky. This is occasionally broken up by interviews with notable contemporaries such as the film directors, Vladimir Sinelnikov and Aleksandr Shein. It sounds a little dry and distant but it is far from it. Brusilovsky has always been at the forefront of contemporary art, even when he was isolated from the rest of the world behind the iron curtain. His world view and grandiose statements propel the film from beginning to end.

Anatol Brusilovsky in the indie documentary Life is Art

Brusilovsky's manner is strangely formal yet the overall impression that the viewer is left with is an abundant celebration of life, the artist as a force of nature. Early in the film the audience is invited into Brusilovsky's studio. This is, apparently, the epicentre of an artistic subculture in Moscow in the late 20th Century. The artist tells us that they freely discussed ideas of aesthetics, art and creativity; they never talked about politics. The artists, diplomats, and aristocrats who gathered there were interested in how art can create a utopian vision of the world, an escape from the dreariness of Moscow.

Anatol Brusilovsky's studio in the indie documentary Life is Art

However, the political quickly invades Brusilovsky's art practice when he is censored by the Soviet government following the publication of a series of photos of his body art.

The adage that the personal is political seems to play out through Brusilovsky's life and it is a similar point of view that gives the documentary its name. The title, Life is Art, is the part of this film that I like the least. Whilst I see where Sokol is going with it, it is too generic to do justice to the larger than life subject. It is disappointingly underwhelming. This is a small criticism of what I found to be a superb documentary.

Anatol Brusilovsky in indie documentary Life is Art

The final aspect that can't escape my attention is the soundtrack. The music composed and played by Nicolay Inshakov under the name Whalephant is pitch perfect. The ebb and flow of the prog rock soundscape is a delight in itself and complements the gently unfolding narrative. Inshakov has added another layer of art to the documentary.

Life is Art is the complete package: an art documentary that from every angle celebrates creativity. If you get a chance to see it, jump at it.


Life is Art is screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.