Film | Max Bessmertny’s works explore themes of sin and misfortune

Local filmmaker Maxim Bessmertny is showing a selection of shorts and commercials from the last seven years of his career in his first ever solo exhibition at the Taipa Village Art Space.

Titled “Degustation”, the exhibition comprises four short films and three commercials, bound in common by the theme of sin. Best known among them is the 2014 short “Tricycle Thief”, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is set in modern Macau, depicting the tale of a desperate tricycle driver in search of money after being served with an eviction notice.

From a thematic and genre approach, the young filmmaker’s work is diverse. Themes of misfortune, desperation and sin are common across Bessmertny’s portfolio, but viewers can also find the qualities of endurance and resilience in his memorable characters.

“I think that there are certain character elements that I am searching for and trying to discover,” the Russia-born filmmaker told the Times in an interview this week. “I am always trying to tackle the seven sins. […] There are elements of greed and elements of displacement. There is a desire to survive and live in a better world.”

Perhaps there are few better locations to explore the role of sin than in Asia’s own ‘Sin City’; a city that for hundreds of years sheltered and entertained pirates, triads and casinos.

But Bessmertny’s commercials and shorts also involve a touch of humor, as well as social satire and commentary.

For example, in The Great Debt, the circulation of a single MOP1,000 bank note satisfies a number of personal debts before it returns to its original owner in a timely manner. The story reminds the viewer that although we mostly think of ourselves as autonomous economic actors, we are more interdependent than we might like to admit; bound together by promissory notes that turn the world.

For the curator of the Taipa Village Art Space, João Ó, Bessmertny’s exhibited works are, in style and content, a reflection of Macau and the unique qualities that only this city can offer for the external viewer. The curator writes about the filmmaker’s exhibition as if it was a well-considered dish, with balanced flavors and carefully sourced ingredients.

“[The exhibition is] a tasting menu, specially conceived with local produce and designed to provide the consumer with a unique experience by utilizing some of the most unusual, yet, remarkable ingredients and flavors that can only be found in Macau,” the curator wrote.

“In filmic terms, Bessmertny’s films breathe the essence of Macau’s cultural diversity and contrasting urban environments: a relaxed tension between the high culture, propelled by a casino-driven society, and the low culture, characterized by the local working class that still earn their living through traditional trades.”

For Bessmertny, the fact that Macau is featured prominently in his work is mostly a consequence of the fact that he lives here. The characters hold the same meaning wherever they happen to be set, he said, “it just happens that the camera is here in Macau. I am trying to find a universal message. There are elements of Macau, but they could found anywhere else too.”

But that is not to say that the filmmaker does not hold Macau in high regard.

“[Macau] is definitely alluring,” he admitted, and its charm makes him feel like he is “stuck in time in this mystical place.”

“What makes it most interesting to me is that I came as an outsider, became familiar with the culture here and a fan of its history. There’s so much story here, in this East-meets-West connecting point. […] The inner harbor is one of the most cinematic sports, in terms of photography, but also meaning and art. It’s a very poetic place that makes you feel both in the 1940s and in the present.”

Bessmertny’s latest project was a collaboration that led to a mini-documentary series exploring a number of eccentric, local personalities.

In the series’ first and only episode so far, two seemingly unrelated individuals are juxtaposed in a humorous way, providing an insight into two very different Macau worlds. But it turns out that both the cardboard-collecting grandmother and the holder of the Mr. Macau 2016 bodybuilding title have more in common than first meets the eye: a love for ‘cardio’.

Bessmertny is now writing a screenplay for his next project. He is still in the early stages and said that it would not make sense to disclose any information about it at this stage.

The exhibition at the Taipa Village Art Space runs until May 31 and admission is free.

The Four Shorts showing at the exhibition

Tricycle Thief (2014),

Macau’s colour-saturated late-night landscape of dark streets, back alleys and neon lights is tailor-made for trouble, as a desperate tricycle driver discovers in this cautionary tale of need and greed.

The Great Debt (2016),

A single bank note travels through different hands in Macau and returns to its original owner.

Death of a Parrot (2017),

A gluttonous grape addict is barred from the gardens of pleasure. He will only be allowed back if he does the garden manager a favor.

Sampan (2017),

A fishing net entangles a fisherman, a businessman and an actress into a love triangle in the South China Sea.


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