“If this film is any indication, director Michael Borodin’s future is very promising, as he has a strong and protective commitment to his subject, never giving the idea that he is exploiting the story he is telling.”
The debut feature of Uzbek-born director Michael Borodin tackles a difficult story of modern slavery set in a small grocery store on the outskirts of Moscow. Aptly titled Convenience Store, the film is part of this year’s Berlinale in the Panorama Section. The film, based on true events that happened back in the 2000s, has us follow protagonist Mukhabbat as she wanders around the titular store going about her duties as one of the store’s clerks. In between customers not paying the right amount, the actual torture happens behind closed doors, as all the workers are being controlled and abused by shop owner Zhanna. Their passports have been taken from them, they haven’t been paid for all their service, and they’re literally being held captive within the confines of the store. Women are being raped and their children being taken away from them. Not even the police are of help to these poor workers, because whenever they try to escape the cops simply bring them back to the store.
Borodin doesn’t shy away from depicting the violence and torture happening inside the store. Its rawness almost defies imagination, having a visceral effect on its audience. A hammer scene around the midway point is probably one that will give viewers the biggest shock, even if it is a bit too literal in hammering home the suffering the characters go through. The film also feels claustrophobic as we go through aisles, shelves, spaces, and corners to depict the small world these characters belong to. Lingering shots of CCTV videos placed in various areas of the convenience store are also featured a lot, giving us a microscopic view of these poor workers. The soft neons of the color palette are notable, giving the film a glossier look – a direct contrast to the horror that the characters are experiencing.
Mukhabbat seizes the first opportunity that she sees to escape the hellhole she is in. It’s ‘go big or go home’. The second half of the film puts her in different surroundings – larger, wider, brighter – but her dilemma remains the same: her mother hasn’t been keen on her coming back, and her hunt to find her child remains fruitless.
The second half of Convenience Store feels more meandering compared to the solid first act. The situation is still bleak, but there is a noticeable shift in intimacy with its focus on the dynamics between Mukhabbat and her mother. Technically Mukhabbat is free now, but not to the extent that she had hoped for. Despite the dire circumstances though, the film manages to end with a powerful final shot. In a way, Convenience Store is yet another depiction of how capitalism hurts those who are not part of the power chain. If this film is any indication, director Michael Borodin’s future is very promising, as he has a strong and protective commitment to his subject, never giving the idea that he is exploiting the story he is telling. There will be discomfort in the audience while watching Convenience Store, but if that is what it takes to get the point across, then so be it.