Writer/Director Diana Galimzyanova presents a modern film noir with The Lightest Darkness, a mystery unafraid to pose questions about the evolution of morality in a modern era. Though the film is set in the present, it exhibits features of the past: men wear long coats and hats, women wear gloves and style their hair with soft pin curls, and a classic black and white aesthetic provides a connection to another world, one that is more rigid and seemingly less complicated than the one we know. The plot unravels the mystery of a killer on the loose, an investigator searching for a missing woman, a writer who strives to witness every macabre detail of the killer’s work, and a femme fatale who may know more than she’s letting on. The Lightest Darkness challenges the viewer to be patient and pay attention to the plot progression, to observe the clues our protagonist may have missed, and to consider the limits of morality in the dark setting of such a mystery.
A private investigator by the name of Ruslan travels by train to settle the affairs of his recently deceased uncle. On the train, he recounts the details of his last investigation to two fellow passengers: Arina, the writer of a macabre new video game about “the Fruiterer,” a notorious serial killer, and Elina, a frequent passenger with a connection to at least one of the killer’s victims. The story of the case is told in pieces by going backward in time, as noted by the number of victims identified as the work of the Fruiterer, and his relationship with Izolda, our modern femme fatale. The plot keeps returning to the train, where Arina’s interest in finding the killer continues to grow, and Ruslan becomes increasingly distrubed by revisiting the details of his past.
Ruslan’s investigation seems both strengthened and compromised by his relationship with Izolda. Working backwards to the start of his investigation, Ruslan meets Izolda while she works as a therapist with some unconventional methods. Both of them are quick to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior for their chosen occupations: Ruslan lies to her and poses as a patient as a way to seek information on the missing person in his case, and discovers that Izolda has some unusual opinions on the limits of her profession – for example, setting two of her clients up with one another, and threatening to destroy their relationship should either of them decide to leave her. She comments on the concept of “morality” being vague, limiting, and even outdated or narrow minded; and in the present timeline, Arina does the same while showing a complete disregard for any dangerous consequences that may come as a result of her game.
Cinematographers Svetlana Makarova and Aleksey Petrushkevich give us a beautiful use of light and sharp contrast throughout the film, a comment on the theoretical black and white nature of Ruslan’s work, though as the story twists and winds backwards into his past, we find that Ruslan, like our supporting characters, actually lives in many shades of grey. A tense manipulation during a therapy session features a completely black background against pale skin tones and light hair. The image of light shining through the tiny holes of a dark cellar door prove to be an anxiety trigger for Ruslan as he revisits a past trauma. And late into the night, the train rhythmically passes by lights outside at the story’s climax, as the killer’s identity is finally revealed, and Ruslan’s two narratives intersect.
Galimzyanova does well with handling the delicate timeline, which can easily lose the viewer if certain details are overlooked. It’s refreshing to see a highly stylized film that keeps the viewer engaged through striking visuals and a minimal score, providing a subtle and consistent tension from beginning to end.