Russian filmmaker of the younger generation Ivan Tverdovsky (Jumpman) presented himself with this naturalistic, difficult and shocking drama during the author’s week of the Venice Film Festival. In “Konferentsiya” (Conference), he deals with a painful event in Russia’s recent history, the terrorist attack on the Dubrovnik Theater in Moscow and the classic Russian response to the hostage crisis in which Chechen terrorists and many hostages were killed. On the 17th anniversary of this terrible event, Natasha (Natalia Pavlenko) returns to Moscow to organize a memorial gathering of survivors. Nataša was lucky to survive the event, but in the meantime she became a nun and returned in the company of her sister Vera (Natalija Potapova) to mark the tragedy in which 170 hostages were killed and the number of terrorists was never determined.
Her adult daughter Galja (Ksenija Zueva) does not want to deal with her and is angry with her mother, and when Nataša arrives home and sees her husband paralyzed and bedridden, it becomes clear that she has been without contact with her family for a long time. It is obvious that their relationship must have been affected by the tragedy in the theater after which Nataša was ordained and left her family, and the night in the theater and the conference or confrontation of survivors with the terrible event covers a good two thirds of the film. Dozens of people mostly reluctantly gathered there to talk about what they survived, and Natasha seems to be the only one who really doesn’t want their tragedy to be forgotten and to try to understand what happened.
In the “Conference”, Tverdovski does not really deal with the controversies related to this terrible event, and he obviously decided to leave the circumstances surrounding the hostage crisis and its resolution to the documentarians. This is a film about personal, human dramas and the main question is how to deal with something like that at all and how something like that affects people’s later lives. When a memorial gathering begins, people who have lost someone in a row 17 years earlier will begin to slowly open up and recall details. But Natasha’s family tragedy is equally intriguing and mysterious, about which we will also slowly reveal some details. Although it may seem vague at first what she wants to achieve with a memorial like this and what happened to her family and why her daughter hates her so openly, everything will slowly fall into place, but “Conference” is one of those films with which you need to have a lot of patience.
It seemed a bit structural, narrative and stylistic to me on the trail of films that Ukrainian-Russian filmmaker Sergei Loznica occasionally makes and completely different from the allegorical fantasy / drama “Jumpman” that Tverdovsky presented a few years earlier. It seems to me that “Conference” is also one of the films about completely traumatized and destroyed societies that simply decided to suppress such tragedies and pretend that something like that did not happen. About people who grieve in themselves and don’t even look for answers to questions they know they will never get. About countries where such anniversaries exist solely for politicians to use for self-promotion, painting and acting if they care, and victims and ordinary people who have lost someone are completely irrelevant and serve only as models to the same politicians from time to time.