REVIEW: ‘3OHA (2019)’ Fails to Grasp Any of the Questions it Begins to Ask

Rating: 2.5 out of 3.

“3OHA is a visually competent, well-edited moodboard that ultimately fails to grasp any of the questions it begins to ask.”

Taken from the festival streaming page for 3OHA:
‘3OHA’ (Zona) means prison to most Russian-speaking people. In the literary sense, it is a concept from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 sci-fi novel ‘Roadside Picnic’. Italian-American artist and filmmaker Clayton Vomero takes this term to mean the thin vapor of consumer culture that allows people to live in a fantasy world and eventually become a full “simulacra” as they simulate different versions of themselves until the original no longer exists.’

The first in Boiler Room’s 4:3 line up, 3OHA (2019) opens strong. We see a young man and a woman dressed in contemporary, almost goth-like clothing, moving across a field. As we pull back, an older lady in a headscarf and faded jeans begins to sing in Russian; she is ignored by the goth couple.

Told in two parts, 3OHA marks the remarkable cultural shifts caused by the fall of the Soviet Union. That familiar VHS fuzz coats the footage from the 1990s as wannabe gangsters in knockoff American brands move through underground raves like lions at a watering hole. To some, the fall of the union presents an opportunity; the anarchy of the transition of power and dissolution of Soviet values acts like a vacuum. Almost like the counter-cultural fashion of British punks or American rockers, Russian youth in the nineties began to queue for hours at certain outlets to buy imitation clothing, expressing new identities inspired by ‘Western’ cinema, music, art. This initial, contextual montage is absolutely hypnotising. To older spectators of the fall, people who have lived under Soviet rule for decades, the change is like a social death of some sorts. The opportunity to reform or completely re-shape your identity is not welcomed by those who found security and stability in Soviet Russia.

Almost thirty years later, 30HA follows social media influencers, dancers and artists from Russia and Ukraine who have found new ways to exist via the internet. This is where 3OHA starts to fall apart, as strong editing gives way to a poorly-directed mish mash of narratives that don’t seem to contribute anything beyond some sense of who the individual artists want to be. There’s no strong correlation between the artists of contemporary eastern Europe and those newly-christened post-Soviets of the 1990s, besides a physical proximity to the spaces and the people who do remember. The second half of 3OHA begins to feel like a Tik Tok aesthetic video, full of blurry zooms and dialogue about nothing. It’s certainly a mood but it feels like a wasted opportunity to explore such a diverse topic. It often feels like the project has focused on the wrong people, who don’t seem to be particularly interested in answering any of the questions the film half-heartedly asks. That would be fine, if the first half of 3OHA hadn’t conformed to such a clear and linear narrative.

3OHA is a visually competent, well-edited moodboard that ultimately fails to grasp any of the questions it begins to ask. Themes that boil to the surface in the handheld footage of the 1990s give way to an unfocused, shiny compilation of perspectives that you could probably find on the Instagram stories of the artists involved. As we continue to consume culture through a narrow gallery of apps, perhaps this is how our histories will be archived, if they are to survive at all. If there is any visual idea to be gleaned from Vomero’s film, it may be the disconnect between traditional forms of narrative and the temporary nature of our online selves. There is a certain irony in receiving this message through an online film festival that archives projects shortly after they have been streamed. Fleeting indeed. While a weak entry, 3OHA attempts to engage in a much broader, ongoing conversation on how we form ourselves, online or otherwise.

Director: Clayton Vomero

Producers: Sally Campbell, Susan Hootstein, Tim Nash, Sarah Pearson, et al.

Cast: Misha Buster, Illya Chichkan, Bogdan Demidov, Husky, et al. 

Release: 28th March 2019

More info on 3OHA and other Boiler Room 4:3 titles here.