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Directed by Michael Vaynberg  |  Review byPrarthana Mitra

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ichael Vaynberg’s dramatic thriller 9.8m/s2 interpolates the tropes of romantic tragedy to offer a glimpse into the intertwined lives of three extremely well-defined characters. At the centre of the dramatic action is Russian immigrant Danila, a man roughened on the edges but who’s driven by a passion that is misunderstood. Despite the hostility he emanates, it is with Danny that the moral axis of the film rests. However, the brilliant characterisation makes it impossible to hold “traitors” Eric and Elen culpable in the sordid end Danny meets, even though they hold his fate in their hands.

The movie opens with a distraught Danny (played by TV veteran Pasha D. Lychnikoff) in search of the one person who makes living worthwhile, although we don’t know who that is immediately. Driven to despair, he goes about the city, terrorising and threatening people who he thinks might lead him to his wife Elen, the love of his life. In a Locke-esque sequence, we see him place a call to his immigration lawyer from the cab he has hijacked and is now driving towards a life-changing revelation. The tension is palpable from his impatience at the stop light, and sharp defining cuts take us through his psychological state, setting the rhythm of the film.

A dapper young man answers the phone, and keeps him engaged while appearing wary of the caller’s violent caprice. Perhaps, it is out of responsibility for the client that Eric stays with him, trying his best to dissuade him in his frenzied search; however, it soon becomes clear that the two go way back and are familiar with this routine. Eric who has helped Danny and Elen obtain their green card has, in time, become Danny’s shoulder to cry on. In a way, he stands for everything Danny does not; a young, rich and successful man acting as his foil.
The comparison becomes all the more inevitable when we learn that Elen (played by Lyanka Gryu) is with Eric in his apartment, and it is clear that they are having a forbidden affair behind Danny’s back. The climax arrives when the jilted husband finds himself on Eric’s doorstep.

It is easy to describe the narrative as one of brutal betrayal that ends in a self-sacrificial gesture from a man who loses his love and with that loses all else. But ostensibly, Elen and Danny seem like a mismatch from the start, and yet drawn to each other in way that overpowers all senses. That this is perceptible even when they don’t share a single scene together, speaks volumes. When she breaks down after Eric hangs up on Danny, the sense of guilt and shame infuses the beautifully lit room, where she has succumbed to the comfort and ease that Eric’s presence brings in her life.

The night life has been captured in lurid colours and energetic pacing in Danny’s outdoor scenes while Eric’s apartment sports a dash of static sophistication. Lush visuals with pristinely light and tastefully decorated interiors make this film worth a second-watch. That said, the clam and stoic ending is presented tastefully and the long shot of Danny’s fall from the Brooklyn Bridge is spectacular to say the least. Metaphysical poets have often compared falling in love to the force of gravity, but Vaynberg managed to attach a numeric value to it.
9.8 m/s2 premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year, picking up an award for the “Best Drama” at New York Shorts International Film Festival, besides being shortlisted for the Sundance International Film Festival lineup.

Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.

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