Writer/director Diana Galimzyanova hits the festival circuit with idiosyncratic “Plan 9 from Aliexpress.”

“You Won’t Understand A Single Thing.”

There is not a more on-target tag in all of cinema history, I think, than this one attached to the new Diana Galimzyanova (The Lightest Darkness) project, Plan 9 from Aliexpress, currently on the festival circuit. A macabre comedy that feels equally improvised and scripted, Plan 9 from Aliexpress both amuses and unsettles thanks to Galimzyanova constantly shifting the ground upon which the characters and audience tread. The moment we think we understand what the film is doing, there’s a shift in visual concept, tone, and even actors, each change bringing about a different sensation — confusion, delusion, discomfort, elation, to name a few. The extremely lo-fi Plan 9 from Aliexpress immediately conjures a sense that it’s about absolutely nothing, yet appears to be offering commentary on a wide swath of topics related to gender, sex, relationships, and global politics through sketch upon sketch, all tethered together by the quest of a reluctant heroine.

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L-R: Kolya Neukoelln as Magical Girl and Ekaterina Dar as Gothic Princess in PLAN 9 FROM ALIEXPRESS.

All the Gothic Princess (played in this sequence by Ekaterina Dar) wants to do is kill herself using her rope. Just end it all. Except Prince Charming (Anton Medov) steals it from her before she can, running off before she can get it back. Under the guidance of several advisors, the Gothic Princess starts her journey to find a hidden object that can lead her to find that which she seeks. But she had better hurry as a deadly being known as Longarm (Diana Galimzyanova), who intends to end her quest before she can succeed and taking the control of her fate out of her hands, is on her heels.

Diana Galimzyanova as Longarm in PLAN 9 FROM ALIEXPRESS.

Before diving into the film proper, let’s take a step back and look at the genre of film it slides into: trash cinema. It’s a term I’ve heard before but haven’t explored prior to Aliexpress and, no, it’s not a derogatory term. Trash cinema itself falls underneath the title of paracinema or a type of filmmaking that’s outside of the mainstream whether in topic or technical approach. More often than not, trash cinema, or paracinema at large, is viewed as projects that are abysmally produced, whether by intention or necessity. Genres that tend to fall into paracinema are art house films, horror, and a litany of other narrowly-focused subgenres. This is important to distinguish from the pejorative use of “trash” as a means of describing something, which is the first tool of a weak mind when evaluating a piece of art. To call Aliexpress trash is to describe it within the subgenre it belongs to, as a film which explores the desire for death via nonsensical scenarios comprised of shifting visual representations, DIY costumes and props, and sets which may have been chosen based on what’s available.

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Elizaveta Shulyak as Gothic Princess in PLAN 9 FROM ALIEXPRESS.

In my view, what separates Aliexpress is the seeming intentionality of the entire production that guides to one interpretation of meaning in the film. The lead character is on a quest for death, but one controlled by her hand, made of her own volition. During her quest she meets several non-gender-conforming individuals, a little repetitiously so, which brings to bear the notion of gender roles and the ways in which they’ve shifted with time. All the while, when Gothic Princess is alone in between what I would deem “sketches,” she hears an overbearing disembodied voice that denigrates her. Though almost nothing and no one she engages with make any kind of sense, there appears to be a greater exploration of agency and bodily autonomy within the narrative. It’s a bit grotesque, to be sure, in the concept, but what’s better? To live a life where one’s every choice is ripped away through gaslighting and abuse or to end it on one’s own terms? With a great deal of humor that involves everything from asking IKEA to return to Russia in order to be able to eat their meatballs again to repeated fourth wall breaking, an idea forms that amid the nonsensical that Galimzyanova wants the audience to ruminate on the way in which they engage with the world and the amount of casual and not so casual misogyny in it.

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Lilit Karapetyan as Gothic Princess in PLAN 9 FROM ALIEXPRESS.

It would be easy to disavow Aliexpress due to its idiosyncrasy. The way it hand-waves the switching of one actor playing the Gothic Princess not once, but twice; the way the costumes are not just visibly handmade, but done so in a way that indicates intentional budgetary restraints; the way that the audience is shown the same montage of different title cards three times as though denoting a new shift or perspective; the way each different course of the Gothic Princess’s journey appears to come along with a shift in cinematography, VFX elements, and more. Given that the title of the film itself harkens to Ed Wood’s cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Galimzyanova’s approach is right in line with the homage, though her’s seems far more intentional in the execution than Wood’s might’ve been. With each change comes an additional piece of information, no matter the silly package it comes in, that moves forward the omnipresent concept of autonomy in a world filled with violence, destruction, and abandoned community once all that is virtuous or valued is removed. Some of the references within the film may only be captured by those local to Galimzyanova’s native Tatarstan, but for those willing to give Plan 9 from Aliexpress a chance, there’s plenty that speaks to a universal truth.

Currently on the festival circuit.

For more information, head to writer/director Diana Galimzyanova’s official website.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Plan 9 from Aliexpress

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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