Masha and Dasha: Two Hearts in One [Diana Taylor, UK, 2018] /// Icons [Ronnie Cramer, USA, 2018]
This touching and fascinating documentary examines the lives of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, a pair of conjoined twins growing up during the height of the Soviet Union. The film’s structure, which is based on an interview with British journalist Juliet Butler, a friend of the twins, interspersed with evocative black and white footage and photographs from Masha and Dasha’s lives, is a simple yet effective way of telling this story.
A recurring element of said story is the cruel and inhuman treatment that Masha and Dasha were often subjected to by the people around them. Initially sold to a research laboratory after their mother was lied to by her doctors and told her children had died shortly after birth, the twins were the subjects of many callous experiments before being moved to a children’s hospital and isolated from the world until the age of eleven. Of course, this makes the rare moments where Masha and Dasha were treated with kindness (such as by the nurse who became their surrogate mother) all the more poignant.
Throughout the documentary, Butler’s affection and compassion for the twins is evident. Even as we learn that Masha was somewhat of a bully who physically and psychologically tormented her sister Dasha, there is always a great deal of empathy and an understanding of the difficult lives these two women led. As we reach the end of the interview, Butler’s sorrowful recollection of the circumstances surrounding Masha and Dasha’s deaths in 2003, how even at the end they were not treated with fairness or dignity, is a melancholy but necessary note on which to end.
Masha and Dasha: Two Hearts in One is a short but effective, no-frills documentary on an obscure but, nonetheless, important topic. Director Diana Taylor should be praised for delivering a film that demonstrates both great empathy as well as a fantastic sense of place; small details such as Masha and Dasha’s mother walking through a blizzard in labour before giving birth to them help to add authenticity and a historical reality to the documentary. Ultimately, it explores how and why people are “othered” and how this treatment effects them, without resorting to sentimentality or mawkishness.
Icons takes its viewer on a voyage through art and history; five hundred years of art in five minutes. The most iconic images in the art world (including but by no means limited to the Mona Lisa, The Scream and Whistler’s Mother) zip by in a collision of colour, accompanied by a soothing yet ever so slightly pumping soundtrack, and all provided by multi-talented director Ronnie Cramer. Two and a half thousand hand-drawn images make up the film. Indeed, a fun game to play when watching is to see how many of the images you recognise.
When discussing Icons, highlighting the sheer amount of talent on display should take precedence. Each of the images is illustrated in Cramer’s own style using nylon-tipped coloured pens, and yet every one is still distinct and recognisable as the original piece of art. It would be churlish to accuse Cramer of “showing off” here, as each piece was clearly drawn with a love and respect for the original works and the presentation never comes across as ostentatious. Instead, the goal appears to be to explore why these great works are iconic and why they still resonate with us today.
While the quick transitional effects between different images can sometimes feel, for lack of a better phrase, a bit “PowerPoint”, they are just as often mesmerising, granting an almost hypnotic quality to Icons’ journey through art and history. Furthermore, the music helps to create a sense of forward momentum, giving the film a sense of pacing and structure it might otherwise lack.
The decision to not present the art in chronological order is an interesting one. If Icons is, in part, a voyage through history, it is not a straightforward one. Separated from a consistent and logical through line, you are encouraged to see each image as its own individual piece of art and regarding each piece on its own terms, rather than thinking of the images as a link in a chronological chain gradually approaching the present day.
With Icons, we have a short film that is equal parts an engaging display of iconic art and equal parts an impressive showcase for a talented director.
'Masha and Dasha: Two Hearts in One' and 'Icons' were film submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.