The Fly adds a new, if not particularly wished for, wrinkle to the man-reunited-with-long-lost-child template: In Vladimir Kott’s film, not only is reconciliation not achieved, it’s barely even attempted. When police pull over truck driver Fyodor Mukhin (Alexey Kravchenko) in a backwater Russian town, they inform him that a recently deceased ex-lover has left him all her possessions, including her house, custody of a 16-year-old daughter that she claims belongs to him, and—since that daughter has just burned down the mayor’s house—responsibility for repaying the cost of the damages. So Mukhin leaves his truck behind and moves in with the girl, Vera (Alexandra Tuftey), whose resentment over her father’s absence leads her to play petty pranks on the older man (breaking his toothbrush, making him sleep in the barn) when she’s not ignoring him altogether. For his part, Mukhin makes occasional but largely perfunctory efforts to engage Vera, while taking a series of jobs to pass the time and getting to know the town locals.
Since Kott’s premise seems predicated on establishing an increasing rapport between his two principals, and since, rather than follow through on this setup, he seems largely determined to keep them from having much of an interaction at all, he has his hands full devising enough material to keep his characters busy, a task in which he doesn’t always succeed. This lack of imagination is especially evident in the scenes involving the father. An amiable, if irresponsible man with a baby face, an aw-shucks grin, and an irrepressible taste for women, Mukhin makes his way around town in a series of scenes that Kott plays principally for humor. Attempting to wring laughs from such material as Mukhin’s taking a job driving a “shit sucker” (a truck that cleans septic tanks), brushing his teeth with his fingers because his toothbrush has been broken, or in a comic payoff that doesn’t pay off, dousing the mayor in feces, each bit punctuated by an accordion twang on the soundtrack, the filmmaker succeeds in keeping the tone light but rarely manages to tickle any funny bones. Add to these misguided antics a pointless subplot involving a mail clerk waiting to hear from her soldier son at the Chechen front, a not terribly interesting romance between the father and a schoolteacher, and the comic misadventures of Mukhin amount to little more than lengthy bits of filler.
More successful are more vividly sketched scenes involving Vera, sassy tough girl and occasional pyromaniac, who suffers the humiliations of sexual rumors at her high school, but who gives it back as good as she gets, in one scene turning the tables on a nerdy boy who made up a story about having slept with her. Friendless and often in trouble with the authorities, she takes up boxing as an afterschool activity, a way to unleash her violent tendencies in a controlled environment. In fact, the whole social life of the school seems predicated on the perpetuation of violence and the assertion of physical authority. The principle pastime of the school kids is a series of gruesome hand-to-hand fights (which Kott unfortunately shoots for maximum incoherence) in which the losers are forced to suffer further physical humiliations. As an illustration of the cycles of violence that define Russian life these scenes are fairly effective, but despite some ham-fisted crosscutting which attempts to link them to the plight of the father (shots alternate between Vera boxing and Mukhin getting beat up by the mayor’s bodyguards), they seem too disconnected from the rest of the film to ground Kott’s project in any kind of consistent social context.
And just as father and daughter never really come together, so the two parts of the film never properly cohere. Different in tone, theme, and level of import, they sometimes feel like segments from two separate films yoked together by parallel montage and forced to confront each other in a silly denouement involving arson and attempted murder. Kott is reduced to setting up visual rhymes between his two characters, such as in a shot where father and daughter sit next to each other clad in near-identical striped shirts, but there’s little reason why these two should be together. And in the end, they’re not; each is set back on his individual course, neither one the better for having known the other. While this mutual lack of effort offers a new twist on an old setup, given that neither character was ever much interested in one another to start with, it’s unclear why Kott bothered with this particular formula in the first place.