Film Review – The Village Detective: A Song Cycle

A damaged picture cell of Mihail Žarov

Bill Morrison is undoubtedly one of the most interesting filmmakers working within non-fiction cinema today. His approach to his subject is wholly unique and is greatly influenced by his art. Most of his work has been collaborations with musical artists and this was also the case for his most famous film Dawson City, Frozen Time. And just like his critically acclaimed award-winner, The Village Detective: A Song Cycle was the result of an unusual discovery.

In the summer of 2016, a fishing boat off the coast of Iceland brought home a decidedly odd catch. The four reels of 35mm film were not hidden treasure but incomplete prints of a popular Russian comedy starring veteran actor Mihail Žarov. Severely water-damaged, they could have easily been thrown away, but Morrison derives as much value from them as a rare haul. They form the starting point for his documentary, The Village Detective: A Song Cycle.

The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is a fascinating treatise on the value of art. Using the celluloid as inspiration, we’re taken on a journey through the life of Žarov. On the course of our trip, we’re afforded a glimpse into the changing face of Soviet society. Accompanied by a score from David Lang, The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is an enthralling and unlikely work of non-fiction. One which highlights the value of even the strangest flotsam.  

The Village Detective: A Song Cycle opens in New York cinemas on 22 September.

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