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POISONS, OR THE WORLD HISTORY OF POISONING (article first published : 2007-07-7)

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov and recently seen on the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Poisons, or the World History of Poisoning takes you on a surreal legend through the ancient art of poisoning.

The story is told through Oleg, a weak but devoted actor who is married to Katya. The catalytic event happens early in the film where a neighbour, Arnold, invites himself to dinner. It is not long before he enters into an adulterous relationship with Katya. What proceeds as consequence is Oleg’s introduction to poisons by an old man, Prokhorov, whom he meets at a bar. Prokhorov later becomes Oleg’s somewhat sinister spiritual teacher and friend.

Oleg attempts to kill Katya, her mother, and her lover, Arnold . During the build-up we are led on a history tour of ancient poisonings from Persia and Greece and a love affair between Oleg and the neighbour’s wife, Zoya.

I found the film simple and unchallenging, a very straightforward narrative with almost show and tell qualities. It is silly, shallow and the acting follows as par. Despite its superficial and obvious qualities you are still compelled to discover the outcome and, despite its predictability, the story is not un-enjoyable. The most enjoyable and spectacular scene plays out at the Poisoners’ Ball where there is fantastic array of surreal and dreamlike events and images that Shakhnazarov captures beautifully. However, there is little or nothing that is memorable in the film, despite a very graphic image of a Pope bathing in the blood of a carcass of a dead bull. – Kate MacIldowie




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